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Great North Run challenge for 10 stone loss kidney patient

06 September 2023

When Simon Cooper takes to the starting line at the Great North Run this Sunday, he’ll be thinking back to the moment when doctors told him he would soon face life on dialysis or need a kidney transplant.  

Weighing over 22 stone, and suffering from high blood pressure Simon was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease in 2021. He decided to take drastic action. 

Simon before weight loss and Simon after his weight loss running
Simon before and after weight loss

A surprise diagnosis

Simon, who runs a Christian retreat centre in Blackpool, had been in hospital for another complaint when his doctors ran a series of blood tests. He was surprised to be summoned back to the hospital urgently. Despite experiencing no noticeable symptoms, the tests had revealed his GfR (measuring kidney function) was only 22 per cent. 

The doctors were pragmatic, 43-year-old Simon says: “I was told to keep coming back in for monitoring, wait until it gets bad enough for transplant or dialysis, but in the meantime keep testing and manage it.” 

“I had 24 hours of frustration and panic,” he admits. But the woe didn’t last long. His faith has played a huge part in helping him respond to the challenges ahead. 

“By the morning, when I met with the doctor he said these things happen and advised us to just deal with what’s in front of you. I tend to be quite a determined man, so really it was just one night of sadness and then it was like, ‘it’s time to fight’.” 

Catalyst for a new lifestyle

The doctors advised making changes to live more healthily and try to manage his high blood pressure, which is a known cause of kidney disease. Simon’s naturally disciplined ethos meant that he totally committed to a new lifestyle. 

“They told me to build in more cardiovascular exercise, as well as taking blood pressure medication,” he says. “They were very relaxed about the diet. They said there were things that don’t help the kidneys and said when you get to dialysis or need a transplant we’ll put in some dietary restrictions. So I said tell me what they are now, I’m not afraid to change anything. Of course, I went extreme. 

“After one or two appointments with the dietician I cut out everything that might have been harming my kidneys. I went to the gym five or six times a week. Doing all that I lost 10 stone in weight; I went from 22.5 stone to 12.5 stone in about eight months. And that’s how I found out running was the best way to do lots of cardio.” 

Simon took up Parkrun, which he’s taken part in over 40 times at various locations. He and wife Laura now operate a running group themselves as part of the mental health support the Christian centre’s city hub offers those in need. 

Having been introduced to Kidney Research UK by a friend, Simon joined a series of running events around the country to prepare for taking on the Great North Run for the charity. And he’s taken the opportunity to tell people about kidney disease as he goes.  

Spreading awareness

“There’s a bit of my story on the back of my training shirt to encourage other people,” he explains. “I get to have conversations around that, around the discipline side of being willing to do this for your health. It gets people talking about kidney disease.” 

Simon’s big changes have been very effective – the inevitable decline into kidney failure that comes with late stage kidney disease hasn’t happened and he has managed to maintain the same kidney function as when he was diagnosed. 

Whilst the future is unknown, Simon is determined to make the most of the opportunity to help others which he feels the disease has given him. 

“I actually feel it’s something I embrace having,” he says. “I feel I can share what I’ve learned about it with other people. I’m willing to have kidney disease if how I’m dealing with it helps other people. 

“It would be different if I was on dialysis or waiting for a transplant – though I did say I will always talk about it and be positive towards people, so pity the person that would have to sit next to me at dialysis three times a week! So there’s an acceptance that I’ve got it, but I use what I need to fight it.  

“Our work is about encouraging and equipping people, so sometimes people who haven’t run in years turn up to our running group because they’ve heard me speak about my kidney issues, my story, and that’s why they get back involved.”

This in turn, seems to give him the strength to take each day as it comes, and to have an optimistic outlook, which is reflecting in his fundraising efforts too. 

Simon wearing his charity running top next to his wife
Simon Cooper and wife Laura.

“Even if I had to go on dialysis it wouldn’t stop the work we do,” he says. “Now it’s under control I’ll manage it as long as I need to. 

“When I was introduced to Kidney Research UK, I found that their aim was not only to support people with chronic kidney disease (CKD), they had an urgent mission to end kidney disease. As someone determined to fight my CKD, I know first-hand the restrictions the condition brings to a person’s life, and the battle that goes with that, and was delighted to be able to raise money for the charity at the Great North Run towards ending kidney disease for good.”  

To donate to Simon’s fundraising, please visit: Simon's CKD Great North Run fundraising page.  

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