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Andrew Cole’s challenging transplant story Maria Thompson

31 July 2019

Former Manchester United striker Andrew Cole is no stranger to the ups and downs of kidney disease. He vividly recalls feeling tired and bloated, but was convinced it was nothing serious when he reluctantly went to see his GP. On his way out, he remembers turning back to his son and saying: “I’ll be back in an hour.”

Doctors believe a virus he contracted on a charity trip to Vietnam in 2015 had damaged his kidneys. He was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) – a disease where the glomeruli, the tiny filtering units of the kidneys, become ‘scarred’. He had around seven per cent kidney function and spent close to three weeks in hospital having a kidney biopsy and receiving haemodialysis treatment. It was clear early on that he would need a transplant.

Andrew Cole
Andrew Cole, footballer

“I didn’t know anyone who had been through it and so I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice.” Andrew said. “Throughout my career and life there’s always been people there to help me, and this was the first time I had experienced anything so life-changing. I had never been in this position before, not knowing what the outcome would be.”

“Throughout my career and life there’s always been people there to help me, and this was the first time I had experienced anything so life-changing.

A challenging time

As a professional footballer and athlete Andrew was still at the top of his game, which meant his diagnosis was particularly hard to deal with.

High doses of steroids played havoc with his body image and self-esteem, leading to an all-time low he admits was a challenging time for everyone, particularly his family.

“When you look in the mirror and hate what you see it’s a difficult mindset to escape,” he said.

Yet Andrew’s most challenging struggles were to come post-transplant, at a time when people around him expected him to make a full recovery.

“I hated every minute of it, it has been really difficult to adjust to,” he explained. “Living as a transplant patient, not knowing what’s around the corner is not easy. I remember first getting home after my transplant and looking at all the drugs I had been given and thinking this is what I need to take for the rest of my life to stay alive.

“It’s a difficult thing to deal with, particularly for my family and close friends who thought a transplant was a cure. Getting used to the medication has been really difficult. There are so many things I want to do but no longer can. When you come from a sporting background it’s hard not being able to do everything at full pelt, but, I accept I can’t do that anymore.”

Turning a corner

Two years on from his transplant, things are looking brighter for Andrew as he adjusts to his new life as a kidney transplant patient. “I’m starting to come to terms with it all much better now,” he said. "Counselling has played a big part in my recovery – I’d recommend it to anyone going through a similar thing.”

At the beginning of 2019 he became an ambassador for Kidney Research UK. He has spent time at the University of Bristol, home to many of the charity’s research initiatives, talking to researchers and hearing about the great projects the charity is funding.

He said: “The trip to Bristol was really exciting. Listening to the researchers explaining the work they do in a simple way was amazing, it has really helped me to come to terms with my condition. When I heard [researcher] Alexander Hamilton talk about the young transplant patients he had interviewed I realised I’m not the only one going through this. Some of the young patients described their symptoms and how they felt and I could completely identify with them. The research made me feel so reassured."

My self-esteem has taken some knocks recently, but talking to the Kidney Research UK scientists and meeting people who have been through a similar thing to me has put me in a much better place now and I’m looking forward to doing more this year.”

Andrew met with Alexander Hamilton who is leading the SPEAK study which has mapped the impact of kidney disease on young people’s education, relationships, jobs, home life, independence, psychological health and mental wellbeing.

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