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Football fan is given the gift of life from his wife despite them not being a match!

24 November 2020

A Norwich couple are celebrating 14 years since becoming a rare, non-matched, kidney transplant success story.

A special process, where antibodies are “washed” before and after transplant “tricks” the body into thinking the new kidney is a match.

It meant Chris was able to give the gift of life to her husband Ian.

The pair are passionate supporters of research to make life better for patients and have raised more than £23,000 for Kidney Research UK through football competitions. They also regularly raise eyebrows when they tell people about their kidney donor story.

Ian Whittington
Ian Whittington and his wife Chris

Football fan Ian Whittington and his wife Chris (Watford and Arsenal fans respectively) have welcomed the establishment of the Andy Cole Fund and say they are both delighted that Andy, a top international striker, has raised the profile of both the illness and the charity by speaking so honestly about the nightmare of the disease and the impact on both him and his family.

Dialysis is a pig

Ian, 60, said: “People don’t understand the impact on your physical and mental health. Seeing Andy Cole speak so honestly is much needed as most people have no clue how bad it is. Andy was a terrific player in his time: intelligent, calm, a damn good striker. The way he is handling the disease and helping others now is truly admirable.”

Ian and Chris were only the twelfth couple to have pioneering non-matched transplant surgery under the care of consultant David Taube, now retired, at the Hammersmith Hospital in London in 2006.

“For over a year leading up to surgery I had dialysis and it was a pig,” Ian said. “Dialysis keeps you alive but between sessions you slowly feel poisoned as the toxins rise again.  Having dialysis on the ‘twilight shift’ then going to work next day, three times a week was tough.”

Ian’s difficult health journey did not end with dialysis. He developed a very rare tumour in what remained of his fistula and three weeks after it was first diagnosed, his right arm was amputated to save his life.

“Losing my arm was a shock, it was three weeks from start to finish. In fact, the whole kidney diagnosis has been quite a journey and it has been a tough ride.”

Ian and Chris Whittington

The dream is no more kidney disease

Ian was working in the public sector, living in Harrow, when he was diagnosed with renal failure in the late 1990s.

Initially thought to be an autoimmune disease, a biopsy found he had a condition like Alport syndrome as well as a low blood platelet count.

One of his brothers has Epsteins syndrome and has had two kidney transplants. The eldest brother has a low platelet count but no kidney disease, which points to their condition being genetic.

His three children have been tested but they show no signs of kidney disease.

Meanwhile he and Chris are determined to help support research to make things better for kidney patients in the future.

“The dream is no more kidney disease – but that is utopia. The second hope is for dialysis to work more efficiently, be much quicker so that the impact on the life of the patient and their family is significantly reduced and to cost the NHS less – it currently costs around £30k a year per person.

Football unites people

“I would love for transplantation to be second nature, so nobody has to endure dialysis.”

Meanwhile Ian and Chris remain committed fundraisers through their football competitions.

“Football has the ability to transcend all sorts of frontiers and boundaries and attracts millions of fans around the world, it is after all, the world game!” Ian said.

When you add the element of fund raising, which as Ian points out ‘it is easy to get people to support a charity when they know how personal it is to me and my family’.

“People think you’re fixed by dialysis which is nonsense,” said Ian. “Transplantation is a wonderful invention, but it carries its own risks and side effects’.  The wider public need to be educated as to how important research is to make life better for kidney patients and their families.”

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