‘I donated a kidney to one of my NHS colleagues – and never looked back’

Ali Dawson, picture don the left in a pink t-shirt, outdoors. he is wearing sunglasses and has dark short hair. On the right is a picture of Ali Dawson with Sonia, a former colleague and mentor who he donated a kidney to.

When Ali Dawson heard that one of his former colleagues had kidney failure and needed a transplant, he knew right away what he had to do. 

In an act of extraordinary kindness, Ali offered to donate one of his kidneys so she could return to normal life and escape her gruelling dialysis regime.

Needless to say, Sonia was a little reluctant to accept Ali’s generosity at first.

“She was just like, ‘No, you’re crazy,'” Ali tells PinkNews. “It was a bit overwhelming for her, but when she saw I was insistent she said, ‘OK, well if you want to do a test, this is the living donor nurse’s details.

“She always says she never thought I’d go through with it, but I never changed my mind.” 

The pair first met when Ali was studying to become a diagnostic radiographer – she was among the team who trained him in, and she acted as a mentor figure early in his career.

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Ali Dawson pictured standing by a lift. There is writing on the lift wall which urges people to become an organ donor.
Ali Dawson instantly knew he wanted to help an old friend when he heard she needed a kidney transplant. (Supplied)

They later became Facebook friends, and it was on social media Ali discovered Sonia had a genetic disorder called polycystic kidney disease (PKD) in 2016. 

Ali was desperate to help an old friend – but donating an organ is a long, complex process. First they had to make sure Ali and Sonia had the same blood type, and then there was a host of other tests to make sure he was a match and that he was mentally and physically up to the task.

In May 2017, months after he first reached out to Sonia, they went into hospital together so she could receive one of his kidneys.

“On the day of the surgery I went into theatre first, and once they’d taken my kidney out they bring the recipient in to the theatre next door and they transplant it into her straight away,” Ali explains.

“I think it took about five hours for my operation and about five hours for hers. I remember we met in recovery and I said hello to her and I was happy to see she was back in recovery.”

Deciding to donate a kidney to Sonia was a no-brainer for Ali, but convincing his family and loved ones that it was the right choice was another matter.

“I’m from Iran originally and in Iran it’s legal to sell kidneys,” Ali explains.

“They have posters in the street [saying] ‘kidney for sale’, so my parents were like, ‘How much money are you getting for this? Who is this woman?’”

Ali Dawson pictured in the hospital after donating his kidney to Sonia.
Ali Dawson pictured in the hospital after donating his kidney to Sonia. (Supplied)

Ali had to explain to his parents that it’s illegal to receive payment for an organ in the UK and that he was, quite simply, donating a kidney as an act of kindness.

“It was a big drama – Iranians are drama queens!” He laughs.

“Once I’d explained to them there wasn’t going to be any harm to me they finally accepted it, but I can get why they were concerned because they’re my parents. 

“My friends and partner were the same as well, but once I explained everything to them they understood.” 

Organ donation has bonded Ali and Sonia for life

It was a big decision, but Ali has never looked back. Giving a kidney to Sonia is one of his proudest achievements in life, and doing so has firmly cemented the powerful bond they share to this day.

“We’re kind of like brother and sister now. I’m in touch every day with her and we see each other often. It’s a bond that was kind of created with the kidney, and it still amazes me that something that was once inside me is now a part of her body.”

He continues: “The whole experience has been life-enriching beyond anything I could ever describe – of all the things I’ve ever done in my life this has definitely been one of the happiest.”

Ali Dawson pictured after winning the exceptional volunteer award 2023 from NHSBT and the British Transplantation Society.
Ali Dawson pictured after winning the exceptional volunteer award 2023 from NHSBT and the British Transplantation Society. (Supplied)

In the years since, Ali has become a vocal advocate for organ donation. As the UK marks Organ Donation Week, he is urging others out there to consider donating an organ to somebody who needs one.

He also hopes people will take the initiative to become an organ donor in the case of death. When a person dies in certain circumstances, their organs could be used to help others living with organ failure to survive.

“Confirm your decision to be an organ donor, it’s the best thing you’ll do today.”

Today, Ali gets to watch his friend thriving every day. She’s able to go on holidays, be herself, and live the life she wants to on her own terms. None of that would have been possible without a donor.

“It was a great feeling knowing I was able to help somebody and save their life,” he says.

Find out more about how to become a living donor here.