Former pro footballer Wayne takes on kidney disease
As a former professional footballer, Wayne Andrews, 44, was used to his body being at peak fitness. After retiring from the game in 2009, he became a personal trainer specialising in strength and conditioning and works with celebrities including former England football stars Andy Cole and Jermaine Jenas.
Wayne’s schedule was busy, so when he began to feel tired in 2012, he didn’t really think too much about it. But unbeknown to him, his kidney function had declined to just six per cent and he might have died had it not been for a change of doctor and a routine blood pressure test.
Now, six years after his transplant, he’s teamed up with Kidney Research UK and the Andy Cole Fund to raise awareness of what it’s like to have your life turned upside down by a shock diagnosis.
“All my symptoms were hidden by my job as a personal trainer,” he explains. “I was getting water retention in my ankles and was getting up four or five times in the night to go to the toilet, but put it down to me drinking a lot of water. I was tired, but thought I just needed some early nights.
“I’d switched GPs and had routine tests, and they told me my blood pressure was high. After a second test they took my bloods, and as soon as the results came in the head practitioner called me to say I had a kidney problem. My creatinine levels were through the roof at 800.
“I ended up in St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington for a few days before being transferred to Hammersmith. A biopsy showed I had kidney failure. It was what they term a crash landing and they had no idea why I had developed it.”
The worst moment came when he was told he would need a transplant at some point. “I remember the consultant telling me in a roundabout way that in the long term I’d need a transplant or I was going to die, basically. That’s all I heard! I had my moment of panic but after that I thought, ‘At least I know where I am, and this is what it is.’”
Wayne was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), where scar tissue develops on the kidney. He had a fistula fitted immediately, but Wayne’s fitness levels and discipline when it came to controlling fluid intake meant he did not go on dialysis for over two years.
Instead, he “got on with his life”, and had just landed a job as an assistant manager in a gym when the inevitable happened: it was time to go on dialysis.
“I was still in my three-month probation period at the gym so sadly the job had to go,” he explains The hardest part was being sent to a unit in Watford – next to the training ground for Watford FC, where he had started his football career as a young pro. “Mentally, it was surreal thinking how life changes,” he says.
He tackled dialysis with his trademark positivity, making friends with the nurses and breaking down his time on the machines by watching films and listening to music. In the meantime, family members put themselves forward to be donors and when a match wasn’t found, a friend joined the shared donation scheme.
“I’d break it down into six-month periods. In the summertime, I’d say to myself, I’m going to get a kidney by January. That’s me, I’m super-positive. But when it came to the start of 2016, I was beginning to suffer. It was getting to me.
“I’d go to parties with friends and have to leave to do dialysis. I felt like I was alone – not because my mates weren’t there for me – but because mentally nothing anyone could say would really change how I felt or the situation.”
But in February 2016 the call finally came after almost three years on the kidney transplant waiting list. A kidney from a deceased donor was available. The operation went ahead, but Wayne’s recovery was difficult. “I almost lost the kidney on the first day when a haematoma formed,” he says. “I was in intense pain.” Luckily, the problem was resolved.
Initially, Wayne did not go public about his transplant. But he was encouraged by his friend, celebrity and life coach Jeff Brazier, to share his story. “I’m always very mindful that my transplant anniversary is also the anniversary of my donor’s death. But Jeff told me that my story would weigh heavily on me if I didn’t tell it. I wouldn’t be where I am now mentally if it wasn’t for him.”
Sharing his experience with others
His surgeon Dr Frank Dor also encouraged him to speak at a seminar for recently diagnosed patients, which he’d attended himself. “I could see a nervous man in the audience with his wife stroking his head and he was just like I’d been five years previously. I took the mic and started crying. It was like a form of completion. I remember saying, ‘No matter what happens, remember this is a lifelong journey.’”
Now Wayne works with Andy Cole, who had a transplant in 2017, and who has been open about how therapy has helped him come to terms with his diagnosis, also of FSGS. Wayne too understands the issues recipients like him and Andy face, particularly with medication and the emotional pressure surrounding regular blood tests.
“A mutual friend had given him my number because he knew I’d been on my journey and knew what it was like when you’ve been an incredibly fit athlete and your body goes wrong,” says Wayne. “Now we are working together so I can help him be the best version he can be of himself, body-wise.
“He is a quiet man which has made what he’s been through worse for him. I encouraged him to speak out about it, telling him if he’s feeling a certain way sometimes with the ups and downs of his kidney journey never to hold it in. I’m a sounding board whenever he wants to talk as I know what he feels at certain times. What Andrew doesn’t realise is he’s actually helping me too, more than he realises. If I can help people, then it helps me.”
On November 3, Wayne will give a speech at the Andy Cole Gala Dinner, and is determined to help others come to terms with their condition. He says, “I’ve been given another chance to live my life, so I will do what I can on my side to look after my body. Mentally, the journey has been a lot for me. Luckily, I am very strong mentally, but someone else may not be and if I can help them, I will.”
Wayne’s tips on dealing with your diagnosis
- Compartmentalise: if you are on the transplant list, break the year down into sections and try to stay positive. If you’re on dialysis, plan how you’ll spend those hours in hospital constructively
- Be disciplined: keep your body in the best condition it can be in by sticking to fluid limits and taking exercise
- Find people you relate to: seek out role models who are the same age as you to find out how they are managing their condition.
- Lean on family: a sudden diagnosis is a big shock. Take family or friends to appointments or seminars as there is a lot of information to take in.
- Share your story: it’s helped me to tell other people and in turn to inspire them. Don’t try and cope with it all by yourself.