Real Life

Saving Honour: Meet the mum who donated her kidney to her daughter

A devoted Auckland mum donated her kidney to her daughter
Honour holding a bunny

As Andrea Sergeant was wheeled into a hospital operating theatre to have her left kidney removed five years ago, she wasn’t nervous or thinking about the pain of recovery. Instead, the devoted Auckland mum was wishing she was at the bedside of her daughter Honour, who’d recently been diagnosed with end stage renal failure.

The kidney Andrea was donating was about to be used in an organ transplant that would save the life of her then-five-year-old girl.

“It was really hard being separated from Honour because as any mum knows, if your kid’s crying or upset, you want to comfort them,” says Andrea, 42, who underwent the surgery in October 2019.

The diagnosis

Honour was eight weeks old when Andrea and her husband Craig, 50, noticed she had a head wobble. A brain MRI didn’t show anything out of the ordinary, but when she was six months old, the youngster had trouble with her balance.

After an eye check, Honour, now 10, was diagnosed with ocular motor apraxia, a neurological disorder that makes horizontal eye movements difficult. But specialists said it wasn’t linked to anything else and so the family carried on with life.

Within a few years, Andrea knew something wasn’t right. Honour was often tired and looked pale and “yellowish”. The youngster also became extremely thirsty and her growth slowed down. Eventually, after persistence from Andrea, Honour was given a blood test in March 2019 to check for coeliac disease, as well as her renal and thyroid function.

Andrea was stunned when she received a call from Middlemore Hospital the same day to say the family had to go in because Honour’s kidneys were failing and specialists needed to work out why.

“They said it had been happening for a long time. I was in complete shock,” says the former light aircraft pilot, also mum to sons Lindon, 12, and Joshua, eight.

Craig’s proud of both his girls.

At hospital, Andrea and Craig learnt the extent of their daughter’s chronic condition, which included a diagnosis of Joubert syndrome, a genetic disease that had caused Honour’s kidney cells to shrink.

“I burst into tears. At that moment, I knew it was really bad and for the rest of her life,” says Andrea, who listened as doctors advised her that Honour could be on dialysis within a couple of months unless she received a donor kidney.

The procedure

Luckily, the medical team was able to stabilise Honour’s kidney function while Andrea was tested as a suitable donor. Her mum was a blood and tissue match, and was approved by the transplant board.

Five months after deciding to donate her kidney, Andrea was having surgery. “I went into theatre at Auckland Hospital in the early morning. They took the kidney out, cleaned it and popped it in the theatre fridge. Then it was ready for Honour to be wheeled in and receive it!”

The doting parents will do anything for their precious princess.

Afterwards, Honour was wheeled five minutes away to Starship ICU, where she spent 16 nights. After four days in hospital herself, Andrea went to stay with her daughter.

“That’s probably not recommended because you’re meant to be healing from surgery as a donor. Honour also needed a lot of support, like being put on a commode to go to the toilet a lot. I really shouldn’t have done that!” she admits. “I developed an infection and had to get antibiotics. They told me off for not resting enough, so I did some time on the couch.”

Almost five years on, Andrea is living healthily with one kidney. Honour, however, has been in and out of hospital since the transplant.

After donating her organ, an exhausted Andrea was back by her girl’s side.

Honour’s tough recovery

“When you get a kidney transplant, they have to suppress your immune system so your body doesn’t start attacking it like a foreign organ,” explains Andrea. “On Waitangi Day this year, Honour suffered a seizure and needed an emergency CT, which found her brain stem was swollen because of a rare infection. She needed emergency brain decompression surgery but has been super-resilient.”

For Honour, who still carries her own kidneys, as well as her mother’s, multiple transplants will be needed throughout her life since kidney donations only last around 15 years.

“It’s hard knowing this will impact every part of her life,” says Andrea. “But already Honour has taught us how to appreciate and enjoy the little things in life.”

In ode to Honour’s brave battle, she was invited by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to choose a wish. After years of dreaming of pet Mini Lop bunnies, the animal lover received two, with a vege garden for them. She named the bunnies Marshmallow and Whittaker.

Tending to them and going on family trips to the snow are things Honour can enjoy freely. That’s all thanks to her mother’s gift of a healthy kidney.

“As mums, we’re always doing the best we can. Sometimes that’s things like making our kids’ breakfast and checking they’ve got their stuff ready for school,” says Andrea. “But other times, it’s donating your kidney. We just do what we have to for our kids to be happy and healthy. I’ll walk alongside Honour on her journey the best I can.”

For more info or to donate, visit makeawish.org.nz.

Get Woman’s Day home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 29% on a magazine subscription.

Related stories