In love with life
The call came in at 11pm on Friday, July 27, 2012. Sabrina Davies had gone to bed early in anticipation of her new job with a local disability support service the next day.
It was one of many new starts for the young bride, still blissed out after her wedding three weeks before to her childhood sweetheart Greg Davies.
The couple had gained widespread attention and support in the Far North last year after Greg vowed to donate one of his own kidneys to help with Sabrina’s chronic pain and sickness from lupus, and cease the endless cycle of dialysis.
At best, the treatment – hours of being hooked up to a machine several times a week – was mind-numbingly monotonous, and at worst, painful.
Greg, a perfect match for Sabrina, would offer his kidney if another didn’t come sooner.
Not because he was reluctant, but as a nurse he knew better than most that for thousands of Australian transplant patients new organs were not only risky, but many would need more than one in their lifetime.
Greg had hoped his kidney could be saved for last. He knew there was no guarantee that patients who’d already received one kidney transplant would get a second.
It was an onerous decision but one that Greg had taken with the same level of maturity and commitment he’d approached his wedding vows just weeks before.
As Friday night kicked into early hours of the 28th, Greg had roused his wife with the news they had been waiting years to hear – a new kidney was ready and waiting for Sabrina and they had only hours to prepare for this life-changing moment.
“I woke up still half asleep and it didn’t sink in at first. I’ll never forget those words ‘you’ve just received a kidney’,” Sabrina says.
“I had just gotten married and I never expected to get a kidney straight away. It was all so surreal. I’d started dialysis in 2008 and had been on the transplant waiting list for years.”
For transplant patients and their families, a typical operation might take them away from their homes and communities for around a month. Greg and Sabrina were in Brisbane receiving inpatient and outpatient treatment for almost two.
“We got into Brisbane at 7am and went straight to the Princess Alexandra Hospital for X-rays and finally went into surgery at 1pm.
“It took about four hours and then I was in intensive care recovery for six hours. It was just so full-on from the time I got the call to racing to the airport and finally coming out on the other side of it,” she says.
If Sabrina was worried about the operation, she tried not to let it show. She knew she had to be strong. She also knew this was what she had been waiting for her whole life.
But for Greg, watching Sabrina get wheeled away for surgery was one of the hardest moments of his life, and the wait in between seemed to last an eternity.
“I was full of mixed emotions. I was worried about the operation but relieved that it had finally arrived,” Greg says.
“She just looked so fragile laying there waiting to go into surgery and then when she finally came out she looked like a Christmas tree with tubes hanging out of her, surrounded by all these machines.
“She couldn’t talk or do anything when she first got out of surgery but when she gave me the thumbs up I knew she was all right.”
Sabrina says she felt a range of mixed emotions leading up to the surgery, but was relieved when it was finally all over and she could start to live her life over again.
“I was happy because it’s what we’d been hoping for all this time and yet the waiting was making me anxious and I was hoping that nothing was going to go wrong while I was under.
“I was too tired to feel much of anything, which was probably a good thing.”
Greg says he found it hard to reconcile his tendencies towards taking care of Sabrina as a nurse and being a loving and supportive husband.
While Sabrina’s new kidney was trying to reconnect in its new body, complications set in and this saw her recovery time double.
The kidney soon turned sluggish, with Sabrina having to return to four rounds of dialysis and then open biopsy surgery.
But it was Sabrina’s overwhelming positivity that aided her recovery and return to a normal life faster than any medical intervention.
“I’m always positive and sometimes it’s hard to look on the bright side when you’re in pain but it’s so true that how your mind works and thinks is how your body is going to heal and recover,” she says.
Sabrina says the change in her body’s functioning and overall feeling of health and wellbeing was almost instantaneous.
“I felt better almost straight away. My colour came back in me and I had so much more energy,” she recalls.
“I feel like my life was given back to me, the life I couldn’t lead before. I have a much bigger appetite and I feel like I’ve got a new lease on life.
“I’m so thankful for this gift that I’ve been given. And I didn’t have to use Greg’s kidney after all.
“I love my life and I don’t complain. I live my life with so much more freedom now. I’ve finished my Certificate III in Community Services and I’m looking forward to a career and travelling and just being able to live my life the way I want.”
But the couple knows that new kidneys don’t always last, and it will only function as well as they treat it.
There may come a time in the future when Greg will have to reconsider donating his kidney. When and if that day comes, he says, he’ll be prepared to undergo the operation for the woman he not so long ago pledged to love in sickness and in health.
Greg says that now they’re past the stress of trying to plan the wedding amid the medical restrictions of dialysis, he can look back on his big day with fond memories.
The photos capture a joyous moment in time where Greg and Sabrina could finally be just newlyweds.
“It was exciting but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t stressful as well,” Sabrina says.
“There was so much planning to do and families to organise and details to perfect. But the amount of support we had was amazing.”
With a session of dialysis the day before, this new bride had more challenges than most, but took it all in her stride.
“It was a beach wedding and it was truly a fairytale. I had Buddha, my dog, at the ceremony and I brought him a special tuxedo and my brother walked me down the aisle. I loved my dress and everything about the day was just amazing.
“We were surrounded by the people we loved and who were special in our lives and that was the most important thing to us.”
Sadly for Sabrina, her father, now deceased, was the one missing link in her day. But choosing Holloways Beach, his childhood haunt, was a fitting and emotional tribute.
Greg, too, believes the heartfelt vows he said to Sabrina on their wedding day will resonate with him long after the honeymoon has ended.
“We made up our own vows and that was a special part of the ceremony,” he says.
“You say what’s in your heart and it was like another stepping stone into our lives together.
“It feels like our relationship is becoming stronger all the time.
“We’ve been together for almost seven years and been through so much together that it was just so good to celebrate our lives with the people we love.”
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Greg and Sabrina