It was a Saturday evening just after dinnertime when Amanda Robertson took the phone call that would change five people’s lives.

From the regular hubbub of her busy family home, Amanda said goodnight to her children and set off to the Royal Melbourne Hospital (RMH), where, as Head of Nephrology Surgery, she leads the kidney transplant team.

That night, and over the following 36 hours, Amanda would lead her team through a succession of five kidney transplant surgeries in a row, catching just a couple of hours sleep in between.

Amanda says she’s extremely grateful when people choose to donate their organs, and when a kidney does become available, time is of the essence. The longer the organ is kept out of the body the more likely it is to deteriorate, so acting fast is key to a successful outcome.

That’s why, when the opportunity lines up, every member of her team has to be ready.

Formed in 1964, the kidney transplant unit now performs more than 150 transplants a year. Renowned for their innovation, the team at the RMH have found ways to transplant kidneys that would ordinarily be discarded by other kidney units, for example kidneys that have sustained injury or those from donors with incompatible blood types. The RMH kidney transplant team has been able to make these types of surgeries safer, and more available to patients.

Royal Melbourne Hospital also heads up the Australian Paired Kidney Exchange (AKX), a service that matches kidney recipients who have a willing but incompatible donor with other incompatible pairs across Australia. Through this program, they’ve been able to facilitate 6-way (12 people), or even 7-way paired or ‘domino’ transplant exchanges, often taking place across the country – meaning kidneys need to be flown to their intended recipient.

Through all of this work, Amanda Robertson says she remains motivated by her patients. Seeing someone who was previously hooked up to a dialysis machine now able to enjoy life makes the hard work worthwhile. And even as she works through the night, Amanda feels grateful to be a part of this transformation.

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Illustrated by Antra Svarcs