ON Monday morning, Jan Zyborski will wake up, put on his suit and head to the office, quite possibly the happiest employee in the world.
“I can’t wait to get back to work,” he says with a smile, looking forward to the morning commute. “People say take it easy, but I can’t wait.”
Finally getting back to work means an end at last to an incredible brush with death which left Jan’s liver under attack from a mysterious illness.
Crushed by fatigue, body flooded with poisons, skin sickeningly yellow and arms twisted with painful cramps, he became so ill he could barely stay awake for more than a few hours a day.
As his liver failed, it became clear only the remarkable gift of a stranger and the skills of a team of liver transplant specialists could save him.
That was just five months ago. Yet today Jan has a new lease of life, the only physical evidence that he was ever unwell is a long scar that runs up his belly where the transplant team took out his diseased liver and replaced it with a donor’s organ.
“I feel great,” says Jan, 54, who received his transplant in September. “It is one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me. It is incredible.”
Jan is one of the 360 Scots who received an organ transplant last year. They were the lucky ones to make the leap from the waiting list to the operating table, three people die every day waiting for a transplant. And while Scots are the UK’s leaders when it comes to signing the donor register, there remains a desperate shortage of suitable organs to help save lives.
It’s why on Monday while Jan settles back to work at construction firm Lend Lease, thousands will raise awareness of organ donation, joining a “thunderclap” of support on Facebook and Twitter, flooding timelines with messages urging others to consider signing the NHS Organ Donor Register.
It’s hoped it will reach people who, just like Jan was once, are too busy to give too much thought to organ donation.
He was working as the firm’s central Europe regional director, travelling between home in Mayfield Gardens back to his native Poland and to business meetings around the globe, when he fell ill.
“I was in Russia for work and had a nice meal and some wine,” he recalls. “Next morning there was blood in my urine. There was a lot of kidding about it being the red wine from the night before, but when it didn’t go away, I wondered what was wrong.”
Tests and a biopsy showed slight liver damage and Jan was advised to take it easy. But wife Diane, 49, was more concerned. For while Jan felt he was coping, she saw a massive deterioration as his energy levels slumped, his skin turned jaundiced yellow and he spent more time sleeping.
The turning point came when he collapsed in Poland, prompting the couple to seek advice from a private health specialist in London. To their shock, it emerged sclerosis had badly damaged Jan’s liver and he needed to see experts at the Scottish Liver Transplant Unit as soon as possible.
The ERI-based specialists suspect Jan’s liver may have been weakened by a difficult-to-detect parasite known as schistosomiasis, almost certainly picked up abroad when he was a child. That plus a hectic lifestyle, is thought to have damaged his liver beyond repair.
“To go from really healthy and active to having a serious health problem and becoming completely dependent on someone looking after me was a real shock to the system,” recalls Jan, who was forced to stop working last March as his health failed. “I was aware of the NHS Organ Donor Register – Diane signed up for years ago – but I never thought I’d end up relying on it.”
Jan was placed on the transplant list in September. Luckily just a week later, on his and Diane’s wedding anniversary, a suitable organ was found.
Incredibly within a few weeks, Jan was home with Diane and sons, Marek, 21, Andrzej, 20, Jozef, 19, Janusz, 17, Stefan, 13 and 11-year-old Adam. By Christmas, when they posed for family portraits he was the picture of health.
Getting back to work completes an incredible transformation made possible by the selfless gift of a stranger and their grieving family.
“The transplant team at the ERI are amazing, we can’t thank them enough,” Jan stresses. “And I’m so indebted to my donor. We share their family’s grief. It’s because of them I can lead a normal life again.
“Being an organ donor is an amazing thing, it saves lives,” he adds. “I can’t believe how rapidly it’s all happened. Now I feel great.”
For more about organ donation in Scotland and to join the “thunderclap”, go to www.organdonationscotland.org.
When it comes to giving, scots are leading the way
MORE than 7000 people in the UK are waiting for a transplant; three of them die every day.
In Scotland, there are 600 people on the transplant list, most waiting for a kidney. About 40 are waiting for a liver.
Nationwide, there are 20 million people on the NHS Organ Donor Register, two million of them Scots. In fact, 41 per cent of Scots are on the register compared to the national average of 32 per cent, making Scots the most considerate when it comes to organ donation.
However, recent statistics show that over the past five years, almost two thirds of organ donors in Scotland were not on the register at the time of their death.
Scotland has increased deceased donation rates by 74 per cent since 2008, compared to a UK-wide increase of 50 per cent.
And Scottish hospitals have been at the forefront of breakthroughs – the first kidney transplant in the UK was carried out at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in 1961.
One donor can save up to seven lives, their kidneys, heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, small bowel can all be transplanted, as can eyes, heart valves, bone, skin and connective tissue. While less than half of us are on register, NHS Blood and Transplant research has found that 96 per cent of us would take an organ if we needed one.