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Volunteering to make the most of a second chance after transplant

14 July 2023

After noticing that he’d developed an “unquenchable thirst” and had lost a lot of weight, Andrew Freeman was told by a friend that he was showing all the signs of having diabetes. He was 30 years old and up until this point in his life, he’d had no major health issues. But a trip to his company doctor confirmed that he was indeed suffering from Type 1 diabetes. “I didn’t have any family history of it,” Andrew says. “All of a sudden my pancreas just wasn’t working as well as it should have been.”

What followed on from here was a series of health problems, which at one point left Andrew bedridden, depressed and unable to play with his son, who’s now six. But the freelance business consultant, who lives in south London, has now come out the other side after a kidney and pancreas transplant, and now feels passionate about volunteering with Kidney Research UK and helping others in a similar position.

Andrew hosting an awareness raising stand in his local hospital
Volunteer, Andrew Freeman

Helping others by volunteering

Andrew, 55, volunteers as one of our community ambassadors and says, “After I recovered from my issues and I got back into the world, I knew I wanted to work in patient engagement and peer support. I’m passionate about kidney research because it fits my background (having worked in healthcare, pharma, med tech and strategic data most of my professional life.). It’s a hidden disease and usually by the time people are diagnosed, it’s alongside something else such as diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), so there are things that can be done.”

Talking about how his own health journey unfolded, Andrew says, “After I was diagnosed I managed my diabetes with various levels of success over 20 years, and then when my wife and I had a son in 2017, I tried to improve this even more because I was now a dad. But a year later, when I was 50, I was having my annual diabetic review and they told me my renal function wasn’t what it should be.”

Four and a half months later Andrew, who was also suffering from Bell's Palsy, was told he needed dialysis and it was an emergency. He explains, “I was on home dialysis for about 15 months and it kept me alive, but that was it. I lost a lot of weight because I couldn’t eat properly, my body itched and I was connected to a machine all night so I didn’t properly sleep.”

But there was light at the end of the tunnel for Andrew, and he was told that if he could get fit enough and manage his diabetes well enough to survive 16 hours of a general anaesthetic, he could have a kidney and pancreas transplant, should the right match be found. He says, “It was like a light clicking on. All of a sudden I had a goal, which was to get fit for this lifesaving treatment.”

Andrew had his surgery in April 2019, but it wasn’t all plain sailing at first. “I’d like to say I was reborn but there were other complications. I’d developed osteoporosis and I had three bouts of sepsis after the surgery. I also had a small operation on my bowel and I had podiatry issues as well due to muscle waste.”

Raising awareness of kidney disease

Now that Andrew is fit and well, he’s desperate to help others in a similar position. He says, “If I can talk to anyone who’s at risk and tell them they can do something about it, that’s what it’s all about.” He adds, “In my role as a community ambassador for Kidney Research UK, I had a stand in the lobby at Guy’s Hospital in London in June. I talked to people and gave out charity leaflets and information about  checking your kidneys . I also took some educational posters about kidney disease and kidney health to the renal unit, the diabetes unit and the transplantation unit and promoted the charity magazine, Update.”

“I had a stand at St George’s Hospital in London on World Kidney Day in March, too” he adds. “I went and talked to the transplant team there and was asked to do a presentation on kidney issues and my journey in front of everyone involved with the renal unit, so that’s the nurses, consultants and surgeons.”

Andrew is also on our reader’s panel, which involves ensuring that the charity’s resources are accessible and relevant, and is a research network volunteer. He explains that this is where volunteers have a say over which areas of research will be of the most “value to patients” and contribute to decisions around which research projects should be funded by the charity.

But it’s talking to other people, patients, their families and friends on a similar path that Andrew finds especially rewarding. He says, “I’m so passionate about patient engagement as lived experience means you can really offer empathy. I tell people they can cry with me and I’ll cry with them as I’ve been there and I truly understand how they feel.”

Get involved

If you’re inspired by Andrew’s story and are interested in joining Kidney Research UK as a volunteer, please get in touch: email volunteer@kidneyresearchuk.org or, to find out more about the different ways you can help, visit our volunteer webpage.

 

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