Former Wolves star Kevin McDonald knows more than most the difference organ donation can make to a person’s quality of life. For him, it was most certainly life-saving.
A footballer since the age of 16, Kevin has played for clubs such as Dundee, Burnley, Wolves and more recently Fulham, however, for the best part of that time, the midfielder was living with chronic kidney disease – having been diagnosed when he was just 19 during a routine medical screening.
He explained: “I didn’t have any symptoms or any history in the family. I didn’t really think about the diagnosis too much. Because when I was told there was no transplant imminent or no major treatment needed, it probably didn’t hit home. I started to become more aware it was going to get more serious as I got older.”
Since the diagnosis, Kevin has had to manage the condition with treatment and daily medication and remains hugely appreciative of the support of medical professionals, in particular Dr Matt Perry at Wolves and Drs Nigel Sellars and Justin Yeoh at Fulham.
“At Wolves Matt was really great about what I needed to do. I was fortunate that I didn’t suffer like many other people have done. You speak to some people and they start to get fatigue and swollen ankles and it really creeps up on them.”
It is just over a year since Kevin played for Fulham, by which time it had got to the stage where his kidney function had deteriorated to the extent he had reached stage five kidney failure – which requires regular dialysis (a procedure to remove waste products from the blood) while waiting on a transplant. Otherwise, an organ from a living donor must be found.
“It is pretty much a waiting game,” he added. “If you can get a living donor it is much better for everyone involved. So while I would have had to go on dialysis as my condition continued to deteriorate, it didn’t quite come to that because we found a donor.
“We were always hoping we could wait until after my football career had finished to have the transplant. But it got to the stage now where the transplant needed to happen urgently. I knew it was coming and so I was prepared in a sense.”
At this point, there were several offers from fans of his former clubs to donate their kidneys, if needed.
The 32-year-old said: “The support was brilliant, from all my former clubs, football in general, and I will be forever grateful. I have saved all the photos and video messages I received, and while I can’t thank everyone individually, I certainly want to make sure everyone knows how much I appreciate it.”
Thankfully for Kevin, he didn’t have to undergo dialysis as his brother Fraser, two years his senior, was a match. And after a number of health checks and a CT scan, his brother was given the go ahead to undergo the operation to help save his brother’s life.
“For Fraser to put himself through this is incredible really – I owe everything to him and will always be in debt to him,” said a grateful Kevin.
In May 2020, and despite COVID-19 causing a three-month delay and a few weeks of isolation for Kevin, Fraser and his wife Lucy, the surgery went ahead, at Guy’s Hospital in London, performed by Professor Mamode.
Despite initial complications where his body began to reject the kidney, and an 18-day stay in hospital (as opposed to four), both he and his brother recovered and were discharged.
And to add to the major events of 2020 – starting with a pandemic and a transplant – Kevin’s wife Lucy gave birth to daughter Layla not long after the operation. Kevin described the birth as “a really welcome distraction” with the main focus going to her now.
An added complication was catching COVID-19. “I have previously had COVID-19 and have been double jabbed. I was always over-cautious, taking extra care, sanitising as soon as I even moved and wearing a mask everywhere, but then I caught it,” he said.
“I didn’t completely know how my body would react. Even now, I am immuno-suppressed and did three months’ isolation after the transplant and I’m still being extra cautious.”
Today, 16 months later, Kevin is running again and looking forward to getting back on the football pitch.
“I have done a six-week pre-season programme on my own as well as getting back in to do a little bit of training,” he said. “The aim is definitely to get back playing football again so I need to build up my football fitness in a group, and see how it goes from there.”
After his own experience, Kevin believes it is important for people to consider becoming an organ donor, so there are more matches for those who need them.
“It is good to consider whether you want to become an organ donor,” added Kevin. “It can make a really big difference to the lives of other people after you have passed away and can give people another chance at life so is always something to consider if you can.”