In Jessica McCourt’s eyes, an organ donor is the definition of a hero.
The North Lambton student and mother-of-one was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, which reduced her kidney function to 20%, in 2015.
Three years later, with it down to just 13%, she received a life-saving kidney as part of a rare seven-way chain.
This means that, on the same day in different hospitals around Australia, 14 people underwent surgery – seven donors and seven kidney recipients.
One of the donors was Sharon Maskell – a lifelong friend of Jessica’s late mum, Debbie.
“Sharon was with me the day I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease,” Jessica told the Newcastle Weekly.
“She put her hand up straight away to be tested and wanted to donate directly to me, but we weren’t compatible, which started the paired kidney exchange.
“There’s not any words to explain how that makes me feel.
“It is probably the most selfless thing you can do as a person, to give someone else another chance of life.
“I am able to do a lot more than I could before, things like taking my little boy to school aren’t as much of an effort anymore.”
The exchange program gives those with kidney failure another option to waiting on the deceased donor list.
It matches incompatible kidney donor and recipient pairs with other incompatible pairs.
Every three months, a database containing the information of registered donors and recipients searches for compatible pairs.
Two or more simultaneous transplants can occur by exchanging donors, but seven is only believed to have happened a handful of times.
Jessica said she became interested in the science behind the disorder after her diagnosis.
She completed an Open Foundation course at the University of Newcastle and then started a science degree.
Unfortunately, this had to be postponed while she recovered, but the 27-year-old looked forward to picking up the books again.
“Education was, for me, a lifeline,” she said.
“It was the beginning of the rest of my life – delving into science and how the body works.
“Going through this process, I have learnt how much work the kidneys do and how special they are.”
Apart from studying, Jessica is also busy planning a wedding to her fiancé, who proposed three days after her transplant surgery.