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“I want my animation to get people talking about kidney disease”

02 March 2023

It’s often the case that kidney disease has a huge impact on not just the person who’s living with it, but those closest to them, too. This is certainly true for Megan Hackett, 21, who lost her nan four years ago as a result of kidney disease, and is now witnessing her mum Stephanie, 52, sadly anticipating the same future path.

Megan, a Graphic Communication and Illustration undergraduate at Loughborough University, has been so profoundly affected by her family’s experiences that she has made a stop motion-based animation as part of her final year coursework. The result is a hugely powerful piece of work which details the emotional turmoil her family have been through. 

Music: Black Clouds by Jannik Haverland.

Kidney disease in 90 seconds

In just 90 seconds, the animation manages to address topics such as the agonising wait for a transplant, the side effects of dialysis and how people can feel like “a prisoner in their own disease”. The animation features voiceovers from Megan, her mum and grandad, talking about their experience and she’s hoping that it will raise awareness, not only about the physical impact of the disease, but also the emotional one. “This has always been something that I’ve wanted to do,” she says. “It makes me feel good that I can use my design skills to do something for a good cause and get people talking.”  

Megan, who worked on the project for two months, explains, “The first time I became aware of the disease was through my nan, Elaine, who passed away when she was 78. She was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease in her early 50s, went on dialysis at 60 and had a kidney transplant when she was 64. It was hard witnessing my nan going through the transplant and having extremely low mental health. She couldn’t leave the house much and was confined to her chair. 

“The drugs used to keep my nan's transplanted kidney functioning slowly destroyed the rest of her body. She had paper thin skin and was covered in bruises. Her bones were also extremely brittle and she broke many bones after her transplant. She eventually had to rely on a wheelchair towards the end of her life. On top of this, she also suffered from cellulitis in her arms and legs and osteoarthritis in her arms and neck and had repeated urine infections.”  

Understandably, these various conditions led to Elaine suffering from a loss of confidence, but this didn’t stop Megan from enjoying a “very sweet relationship” with her nan. She says, “She couldn’t do much with me but we’d do little things here and there. She was on steroids and they would really badly bruise her skin. When we were little we’d say, ‘Why is your skin all purple, Nan?’ She used to tell us she’d been stained by blueberry bushes!” 

Family images of Megan, her sister, her mum and nan all sitting outside in the garden.
Megan with her sister, mum Stephanie and nan Elaine.

Unfortunately, Megan’s mum Stephanie was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease in 2020, having been told she had polycystic kidney disease in her 20s. Megan explains, “Mum is currently taking Tolvaptan to help slow the growth of the cysts, but even then she worries and is very aware of her blood pressure levels and her diet. We have a lot more conversations about it now as a family.”

Megan has a younger sister Katie, 18, and is fully aware that there is always the possibility that they might also have kidney problems in the future, but they’re in no rush to find out. “Because it’s hereditary, my sister and I do worry. But it’s not at the forefront of our minds as we want to just get on with life and enjoy it. I could be tested now but I don’t want to know yet.” 

Megan and mum Stephanie sitting at a table outside drinking
Megan and mum Stephanie

Shining a spotlight

One of the things that drove Megan to make her animation, is her desire to shine a spotlight on kidney disease as she feels that there is still so little known about it. “There’s so much publicity around things like cancer and I just didn’t know much about chronic kidney disease. That’s why I feel passionate about it. The work that charities such as Kidney Research UK do for these individuals is very important but it’s something that’s very unrecognised from a public health perspective. So much needs to be done going forward to change that. It affects so many people and I feel like kidney patients aren’t given enough support.” 

One of the things we hear Megan’s mum say in the animation is that her disease feels like a ticking time bomb. She explains, “Mum doesn’t like to talk about it a lot as she doesn’t want to feel like a burden on people. From her physical appearance people wouldn’t look at her and think anything is going on but she knows she’s going to be on dialysis one day and will need a transplant. It’s only going in one direction and nothing can stop it.” 

In terms of how her family have responded to the animation, Megan says, “Mum cried. It felt very personal for her to hear her voice and see it with the images I’d used. She was so touched and told me she was very proud of me.” 

However, her grandad Dave, who’s 82, found it harder to watch. She says, “It was more difficult for my grandad. He’s seen it and is proud of me, but because he was my nan’s main carer, it is sadly a painful reminder of the suffering and loss of his beloved wife. I hope my nan would be proud of it too.”

Megan recognises how strong and brave those suffering with chronic kidney disease are, despite a lack of support sometimes. Megan would like her work to help raise the profile of this very important subject regarding public health, alongside other serious more well-known diseases.

Hear from people living with kidney disease

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