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I wish I’d known mum’s kidney transplant might not be a forever fix

10 February 2021

Former Eastenders actress and comedienne Nina Wadia, OBE, has told of her struggle to put on a brave face on stage when her mum was battling kidney disease.

Nina, who found fame in the popular TV comedy series Goodness Gracious Me, has spoken candidly of how upsetting it was to watch a loved one battle kidney disease and how she wished she’d been warned her mum’s transplant may not be a forever fix.

Former Eastenders actress Nina Wadia
Former Eastenders actress Nina Wadia

“When mum became really ill, I was touring with the Goodness Gracious Me shows on stage,” Nina said.

“I was playing the part of funny girl, when all I wanted to do was rush home to see mum.

“At one point during the tour, I had a complete meltdown in the wings. The last thing I felt like doing was making people laugh, but the show had to go on. It was a tough time.

“One night I even found myself rushing through the lines quicker than normal without meaning to as I just wanted to get back to mum. It felt like two different worlds.”

52-year old Nina, whose mum Homai died in 1999 of polycystic kidney disease (PKD), said she wished somebody had warned her that her mum’s kidney transplant might fail.

“Kidney disease feels like a life sentence with no guarantees.

“People don’t understand how that affects a person’s wellbeing, how it impacts families and they certainly don’t understand that a kidney transplant is not always a happy ending.”

Nina was recently named in the Queen’s New Year Honours list for her ambassador role with charities, including Kidney Research UK. She wants to use her OBE to raise awareness and funds for research to make life easier for kidney patients.

The issue has become even more important since her 13 year old son Aidan was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a condition which can often lead to kidney disease.

“It’s like it’s snapping at my heels,” Nina said.

I wish mum's kidney had lasted longer

“I know my parents would be incredibly proud of the OBE. It feels like a wake-up call to do more to help others. I know mum and dad would want me to use it for good.”

Watching her mum go through dialysis and having a transplant, then her son’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, made it very clear to Nina that while diabetes patients have treatment options to make a difference to their quality of life, the same cannot be said about kidney disease.

“Of course, I feel incredibly grateful for mum’s transplant because as a family we enjoyed eight more precious years with her, but even during that time it was not always easy for her,” Nina said.

“And of course, I wish the kidney had lasted for a lot longer.

“Transplant is a bittersweet fix. The thought that it may only be temporary hangs over a family constantly. Nobody knows if everything will be OK tomorrow.

“Dialysis can also be a terrible experience for many. Watching mum go through it, at times in agonising pain, but always with a smile and such courage, was upsetting."

Nina Wadia with her mum Homai and dad Minoo in
Nina Wadia with her mum and dad

Hospital dialysis became home from home

“Research is crucial to make life better for everyone suffering with this horrible disease.”

Nina recalls hours spent at her mum’s bedside while she endured dialysis. It was this that encouraged her to fight for TVs to be at each patient’s bedside to give patients something to do while tethered to a dialysis machine for hours at a time.

“It was like a family day out! We’d visit her on the renal ward at Hammersmith Hospital and got to know all the other families in there, hear their stories, share their pain. It united us. Like a kidney community!

“We would celebrate when somebody had a transplant or commiserate when things were tough. It became home from home.”

The family joked how it would be funny if Homai’s kidney transplant call came on her brother’s wedding day.

Then, sure enough, the call they had all been praying for came – during her brother’s engagement day celebrations.

“We couldn’t believe it. Everyone was excited, we were celebrating, but it became total chaos of joy and rushing about.”

Homai had eight years with her transplanted kidney but the last year of her life was hard.

“She was very ill,” Nina said. “Why don’t people tell you that a transplant is not necessarily for life? I couldn’t understand. Why don’t they warn you?

“There was such excitement that we got mum back after the transplant, but the fact it didn’t last forever was tough.”

When Homai died, Nina made a conscious decision to do everything she could to help lessen the burden for families going through kidney failure.

“It’s just not fair. The OBE feels like the Universe saying, “come on Nina, it’s time to do more for the charities you work with”. This feels more of my calling than acting did.

“I wish there was some respite for kidney patients. Prevention, treatment, cure. My son got his life back from his Type 1 diabetes, but in the kidney world it is not that simple.”


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