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Faith, hope and determination in the face of kidney disease

03 May 2024

An unexpected phone call at 3am on Christmas morning positively changed the lives of husband and wife, Chris and Anne Johns, who are both in their seventies. After 18 months receiving dialysis, Chris was told that a suitable kidney had become available for transplantation 

Anne says: “We called it the ‘Christmas miracle’. We were totally stunned. We were meant to visit our son and the family, and I was cooking the turkey! The transplant was a success, but we were thinking a lot about the person who had passed away and their family. We hope they could find some comfort knowing that it was giving Chris a second chance.” 

Wife and husband in their seventies, pictured together in the garden
Anne and Chris Johns

Beginning dialysis was overwhelming

The married couple, from Wiltshire, first discovered problems with Chris’s health in 2014, after a Wellman check. Results showed high levels of creatine in his blood which were monitored over the following years.  

By 2017, Chris had been diagnosed with high blood pressure, prescribed blood pressure medication and referred to the renal unit at Southmead Hospital in Bristol. Unfortunately, Chris’s kidney function deteriorated to 14% in 2021, and, after contracting the Covid-19 virus, it fell further to 8% in early 2022. By this time, dialysis had become necessary. 

Chris says: “Before my health problems, life was rich and varied. We were semi-retired, went on holidays to Italy and took trips in the motorhome. We enjoyed walking, swimming and spending time with our grandchildren. We’ve both had busy careers, so we were making the most of having time to get involved with voluntary work, writing books and the parish council. Starting dialysis was overwhelming and very much limited what we could do.” 

Treatment and setbacks

Chris initially opted for peritoneal dialysis at home but found multiple sessions of treatment each day did not suit his lifestyle. Things took a turn for the worst when Chris developed a serious infection. He was hospitalised for six weeks in the summer of 2022 with peritonitis and a rare, micro-bacterial organism.  

It wasn’t until October 2022 that Chris was finally infection free. By this point, receiving haemodialysis, three times per week, for four hours at a time, was part of his weekly routine.  

Chris says: “I initially received dialysis at Southmead Dialysis Unit, and then at Frome Satellite Unit. The treatment at both was superb.” 

“We’ve always been people who adapt to changing situations pretty well, but I can’t deny the fact that my illness has created a lot of frustration. Our lives changed significantly. Thankfully, haemodialysis felt freer to me than home dialysis. Even though it took up whole afternoons, I had some days and weekends off. We were even able to go away and have dialysis at other centres in the UK. That was a great boost to our morale.” 

By 2023, Chris was able to look forward to the possibility of receiving a transplant. Unfortunately, Anne had not been able to donate a kidney to Chris due to being a different blood group. However, they decided to enter the living kidney donation pairing scheme, to find a match with a compatible pair. Following stringent tests to confirm the couples’ fitness, a match was found, and a transplantation date was arranged for July 2023. 

Anne says: “The first time we were supposed to go ahead with the transplant was in July, on Chris’s birthday. It was the actual day of the operation that we got the call to say that one of the donors involved was ill. The whole chain was cancelled. We were so close, it was devastating.” 

“We went into the next round in September, but this time somebody was found to be ill at their pre-checks and it just collapsed again. This was a rare occurrence for this excellent scheme but was one of our lowest times. It took a bit of time to get over that.” 

“We were due to go back into the next round of the living donor paired scheme at the end of January, but we’d gone back onto the deceased donor list, and it was just incredible to receive the call on Christmas morning.” 

Keeping faith

Facing all the ups and downs in Chris’s treatment for kidney disease, the couple’s Christian beliefs have guided them throughout. 

Chris says: “Having a faith has helped us significantly. I can see the church from our bedroom window and the support we’ve had in our village and beyond from friends, family and from the church has boosted us along.” 

“Our eldest son ran a back-to-back marathon across Exmoor to raise funds and awareness for kidney disease. Meanwhile, our youngest son is a filmmaker who made a documentary about a healing lama in Mongolia. He had special mantras made in the monastery for us. Knowing that was done and people were constantly praying for us meant a lot.” 

“Our sons are now planning a joint pilgrimage from Cambridge to Walsingham later this year to give thanks and raise funds and awareness.” 

Anne also pays tribute to the professionals who have supported Chris, saying: We’ve received outstanding medical care at Southmead Hospital, Frome Dialysis Unit and our local GP team. That makes such a difference and we have been very fortunate. There is a great charity called the Bristol Area Kidney Patients Association (BAKPA) who have a house just around the corner from Southmead Hospital. It’s for kidney patients and their families and I was able to stay there for a week, when Chris received his transplant, and walk to Southmead each day. If I’d had to drive an hour and a half to Bristol every day, it would have been exhausting.” 

Married coupl ein their seventies, sitting on a bench in their garden
Anne and Chris

Looking forward to the future

Having received his transplant, Chris and Anne are now able to plan life without the restriction of dialysis, and there is plenty they are looking forward to. 

Chris says: “I’ve had a shower for the first time in two years! Going in the sea in the summer will be a wonderful thing to do too. We’d like to go on a few holidays later in the year. It’ll be great to walk along the coast, enjoy the beaches, see people we haven’t seen in a long time and visit places we haven’t been able to go to.” 

“I think three words sum up our attitude and philosophy to life and living with kidney disease. Hope, determination and faith. The three strands have come together to sustain us through the whole period and continue to do so. I always have a little mantra of ‘never give up.’ Whatever the challenges are, you just get back up and go again.” 

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