It was a life-changing knock on the door that came just in time.

Finau Veikoso had endured eight years of dialysis while waiting for a kidney transplant, but when one became available doctors couldn't reach her.

The kidney came from a recently deceased patient, and there was a short window to arrange a transplant.

Dr Joanne O'Riordan was out for a Saturday night pizza in the central city when she received a call from Auckland City Hospital, saying the number for Veikoso wasn't getting through.

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Time was ticking, and soon they'd have to move to the next on the list.

O'Riordan, a renal doctor at Waitemata DHB, drove to work and began a frantic search through Veikoso's files.

"Sometimes on the patient notes you've got an extra bit of information - another family member, or you can hunt back to find a number from five years ago," O'Riordan told the Herald.

"I left messages, I texted - because sometimes people don't answer strange numbers ."

It was approaching 9pm. The team at Auckland were calling back, and it wouldn't be long before they gave up on Veikoso.

O'Riordan called other consultants, who suggested she try Dr Baskar "Baskey" Reddy, team leader at Waitakere dialysis unit.

He knew Veikoso and her family well, and was aware of the 58-year-old's disappointment after pneumonia stopped her from getting a transplant earlier in 2018.

The drive from Reddy's Epsom home was made in record time.

"Luckily there were no cops," he said. "I might have exceeded speed limits."

Reddy couldn't find a number that worked, and on the drive home his mind raced. He could drive to Veikoso's Te Atatu South address, but that breached DHB policy.

He and his wife Swathi, a dialysis nurse, struck upon an idea - Veikoso normally took a taxi to dialysis, could the same company send a car out?

In the midst of a busy Saturday night, Auckland Co-op Taxis found the details and dispatched a driver.

Dr Baskar Reddy and Dr Joanne O'Riordan stand behind Finau Veikoso (left) and her daughter, Teuila Leausa, and grandchildren, 6-week-old Fieaonga and 2-year-old Kinitoni. Photo/Michael Craig
Dr Baskar Reddy and Dr Joanne O'Riordan stand behind Finau Veikoso (left) and her daughter, Teuila Leausa, and grandchildren, 6-week-old Fieaonga and 2-year-old Kinitoni. Photo/Michael Craig

In Te Atatu, Veikoso and her daughter, Teuila Leausa, were preparing for bed after an evening watching television. Then came the life-altering knock on the door.

Leausa was confused, telling the driver her mum had already done her dialysis. A phone was passed over, with Reddy on the other end.

"At that point I knew she wasn't going to miss the opportunity," Reddy recalled of the conversation. "In the background I could hear - they were jubilant."

It turns out Leausa's 2-year-old son Kinitoni had left the landline off the hook after playing with the phone, and a cellphone was re-charging.

"First we were shocked," Leausa said of the transplant news. "And then a while after that we were happy. Mum had some tears. But happy tears."

Veikoso, a diabetic, had pre-operation tests done at Waitakere Hospital, and the transplant the next morning, at Auckland City Hospital in October.

The family were deeply grateful to the donor and their family, Leausa said, and to the doctors who went above and beyond.

Veikoso's new lease on life has been accompanied by a new grandson - 6-week-old Fieaonga joined the family's interview with the Herald and reunion with Drs O'Riordan and Reddy at Waitakere Hospital this week.

The average life expectancy on dialysis is about five years, although patients can live longer depending on age and general health. Reddy said a kidney transplant was truly a "life-changer" for patients like Veikoso.

"They live a normal life, like you and I. Dialysis is a painful process...there are lots of restrictions on food and diet. They come back every alternate day for the treatment. There are serious infection chances."

The waiting time for those eligible for transplant is normally about five years, but sometimes as long as 10.

However, Reddy said recently he had observed an upturn in transplants, owing to more public awareness, the efforts of health workers and more support at government level.

Kidney transplant operations in New Zealand

2017: 187 (118 deceased donors, 69 living donors)
2016: 167 (85 deceased donors, 82 living donors)
2015: 147 (73 deceased donors, 74 living donors)
2014: 139 (67 deceased donors, 72 living donors)

Source: Organ Donation NZ