Obituary: Elizabeth Ward

Pioneer of organ donor cards

Adapted from Obituary in BMJ 14 Nov 2020

Elizabeth’s son Timbo, developed renal failure aged 12 in 1970. He used dialysis and went on to have three kidney transplants, including one donated by his father. Sadly, he died aged 34 in 1987.

The first UK kidney transplant was done in Edinburgh in 1960. In the 70s and 80s far fewer received organs than nowadays. This is partly due to improved immunosuppressant drugs, but also because there are more kidney donors.

Elizabeth recognised that the medical profession and renal patients needed some help to improve the situation around transplants and care of kidney patients and she sought out medical and science correspondents on national newspapers, on the radio and on the television to highlight the issues.

In 1975 Elizabeth founded the Kidney Patient Association, which is now Kidney Care UK. She helped raise 70 million pounds to fund renal units at Great Ormond Street, London and in Birmingham, Crawley and Glasgow. In 1990 Guy’s Hospital, London opened the Timbo Ward, Paediatric Renal Unit.

Prior to her close involvement with renal charities, Elizabeth had used her skills as a sales director in campaigning for Guide Dogs for the Blind.

One of Timbo’s friends at school was the son of Keith Joseph who became secretary of state for health and social services. He backed the organ donation scheme which was introduced in 1971.

By 1990 more than a quarter of the UK population had registered as organ donors but only 7% carried the cards on them. In addition doctors were often reluctant to ask grieving relatives for permission to remove organs, and despite a person’s wishes prior to death, the relatives had the last say.

Elizabeth was keen to see an opt out scheme in the 1990s but this was not achieved till May 2020.

One of her most popular initiatives in the 1980s was the foundation of holiday dialysis centres, where patients could receive twice weekly dialysis in Majorca, Spain and in Montpelier in the south of France. This was the first time renal patients and their families could go abroad.

After three years of persuasion, Elizabeth was successful in getting Biddy Baxter, the editor of BBC’s Blue Peter, to devote the 1982 Christmas appeal to children with renal failure. The result was 8 million treasure parcels from children all over the UK.

Elizabeth Ward had three children. Her two daughters survive her.

My comments: Elizabeth and her fellow renal patient supporters have made a huge difference to the lives of many diabetic patients. As a student, I remember a talk given by one the renal dialysis patients at the Western Infirmary Glasgow. He was a dark haired young man of 24. He was saying that he had to eat a lot of cakes, because he was on a low protein diet. He said he was sick of them! The tiredness was the main thing that got to him. For many years I carried a donor card. We used to have them at the surgery reception and encouraged new patients to register. On holiday in Rhodes around 1996, I was walking up a big hill on a day trip and met a middle aged man from England who told us that he was a dialysis patient and that he was enjoying his holiday thanks to an arrangement with the local hospital, and thanks to Elizabeth.

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