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Football fan Upa, received a kidney from his cousin Avi, and is an avid supporter of the Andy Cole Fund

30 November 2020

A London-based football fan with a family history of kidney disease, has told how his cousin flies back from India every year for their annual health check together after donating a kidney to him.

Upanishad Loomba (Upa) and Avi Johri feel blessed by their unbreakable bond and want to be part of the movement to improve lives for kidney patients through the Andy Cole Fund.

Upa Loomba
Upa Loomba and his cousin Avi Johri.

Upa 29, a senior project manager working at a tech start-up, was diagnosed with Alport syndrome after leaving university in 2013.

He was aware of kidney disease from a young age through an uncle having two transplants in the 1980s and his 85-year-old grandma, who is keeping well thanks to being on dialysis for 12 years, alongside good care and a positive approach to life.

Upa is a die-hard Chelsea supporter and a huge fan of former Manchester United striker Andy Cole, not only for his sporting accomplishments, but also for his honesty on the struggles of living with kidney disease.

Andy Cole’s commitment is admirable

“Andy Cole is an absolute legend.” Upa said. “Somebody who achieved so much at the highest level but is big enough to admit his health struggles to help others and then set up a fund, is an incredible person. I really admire him for his commitment to this cause.

“Looking at the work by Kidney Research UK supported by the Andy Cole Fund, it is clear things can and will go much further to improve patients’ lives.

“I want to support research because I want this transplant to last. I want better treatments for me and everyone else going through this.

“I would love to let people know that there is a lot happening out there to make the future brighter for patients like us. Also, that people are never alone, and there is now a whole community of us, especially after the foundation of the Andy Cole Fund.”

Upa knows the importance of how research can improve lives after seeing his uncle needing a second kidney transplant when the first one was rejected.

Transplant patients used to recover in a ‘glass cage’

“Both times he was in a glass cage room for six weeks to reduce infection risk, people had to wave through the glass. Now, family can visit immediately after surgery. It’s crazy how far we’ve come thanks to technological advances and improved medicine!”

Upa and his Life Sciences Consultant wife Anushka are impressed by the fund’s mission to improve patient lives by ensuring transplants succeed and last longer and the long-term goal of supporting patients’ mental health.

Meanwhile, cousin Avi is a keen runner and has blogged about how good he feels since donating a kidney in a bid to encourage others to consider being a living donor.

Upa said: “Day one post-transplant required me to take 42 pills a day, but the aftercare of my NHS medical team, the support of my family and me staying positive helped me to get through it, and down to five pills a day.”

Upa was aware he had kidney disease in 2011. In 2013 when he left university, tests showed it was worsening.

Upa Loomba
Upa and his cousin Avi ready for transplant surgery

Cousin donated the gift of life

“I was told I may need a transplant within five years but because I felt okay, it was out of sight, out of mind.”

However, in less than six months, his condition deteriorated, and for four months prior to transplant, he had dialysis via a port line in his neck.

“By January 2014 I felt rough and found it hard to get up. My mood was low which is unlike me. I secured a job with a great company but had to tell them about my looming transplant. They were really supportive and allowed me to put off my job for a year to have the operation and get better.”

Cousin Avi was living in Australia at the time but flew to London to be by Upa’s side and donated his kidney in May 2014. Avi now lives in India and returns for his annual check-up as a kidney donor at Guys and Thomas’ hospital in London.

"He flew down and got his tests done when it was made clear that I should start looking for donors,” Upa said. “His attitude and mindset is incredible - he came forward and gave the gift of life to me as easily as if he was lending me a tenner!

“I have no words to describe Avi, he's totally unique in his generosity and giving demeanour, I owe my entire life to him.

“Although he is the kind of person who would make organ donation look extremely easy (being a marathon runner!), the way the NHS and the team supported the both of us was amazing, they make sure the donor is really looked after.

“Fast forward and Avi is happily married, healthy, and training for yet another marathon!"

Upa added “The kidney has functioned well ever since. I have the odd blip but mostly I feel fantastic and am super happy.

“So far, I’ve come out of this relatively unscathed from something quite big, unlike others who have endured terrible health battles. I feel very fortunate.”

Proud to support others

Upa hopes his story might inspire young people living with kidney disease to help them feel more positive about their future.

“Initially after the transplant operation it was a very painful process. But a week after surgery and lots of amazing care from nursing staff I started to feel better. Each milestone passed. My sleep improved, my health improved. I went for short walks, then long walks, then a beer with friends. Everything fell into place. Four months later I was back watching football and six months later playing football myself, albeit in the local five-aside in Wembley, not quite Champions League finals like Andy!

“Everyone has their own individual journey. For some it remains an uphill battle and I do understand that”, he said.

Upa remains grateful to the NHS and Kidney Research UK.

“My wife is from a science background and stayed abreast of developments within the chronic kidney disease field. We are impressed by the forward thinking of Kidney Research UK and the Andy Cole Fund, looking ahead to 20 to 30 years' time.

“I am proud to be part of the movement to improve life for patients as my way of saying thank you for having my own quality of life restored to normal.”

If, like Upa, you are inspired by Andy's story, why not join the special fans making a gift through the Andy Cole Fund season ticket.

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