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“Challenging myself to make my brother proud”

23 May 2024

Losing her 49-year-old brother David, after his lifelong battle with kidney disease, was devastating for Joanne Wallis and her family.  

After David died in November 2023, Joanne, 39, from Derby, decided to take on a series of challenges in his memory to raise money for Kidney Research UK. From a skydive to swimming and walking events, Joanne has been determined to make David and her family proud.  

Joanne says: “My brother was a gentleman. He was best friends with everyone, did well in his life, didn’t smoke and didn’t drink. He had a laugh, enjoyed his life and lived it to the full. I just want to make him proud. I think that if you set your mind to something, you can achieve anything.” 

An old photograph of Joanne and her brother when they were growing up
Joanne and brother David

David lived a full life with his transplant

From the age of six, David was badly affected by kidney disease, but Joanne says: “It didn’t stop him. He did absolutely everything he wanted to do. He played football for Gresley Rovers and participated in the Transplant Games. He did judo, volleyball, table tennis and every other sport you could think of. David was a fifth Dan in judo and set a record for the most throws in two minutes. He inspired so many young people to get into the sport.” 

A collage of Joanne's brother David
David doing some of the things he loved.

“He did really well for himself, had a brilliant job and everything you could dream of, really. In 2015 though, David’s kidneys deteriorated so much that he needed a kidney transplant. Thankfully he received one from his wife, Kelly. She gave him life again. 

“It was in September 2023 that he fell poorly. They did all these tests, but he ended up in intensive care. Kelly had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn his machine off. I can’t imagine how she felt. She gave him a new life and then had to make that decision. It’s heartbreaking for her and his 20-year-old daughter, Hollie. It wasn’t expected at all. 

“It’s only me and my mum left now, which is weird because I’m the youngest of my siblings. My other brother, Steve, passed away in 2009. So, David and Steven are together now.  

“I’m keeping busy. There are difficult days, but I try to be strong for my mum and my extended family. It’s not been easy, and I go to therapy to grieve. 

“I do have my off days where I have to sit down and cry. I can’t watch movies now. I think Shrek made me cry the other week! It’s things like that, or a smell or a song than can hit me.” 

Joanne’s epic challenge

It all started with a joke between David and Joanne about her doing a skydive for charity, and now she is taking on a series of fundraising challenges for Kidney Research UK – beginning with our walking challenge, the March March, and a skydive, raising over £500. 

Joanne says: “I’d said I was going to do a skydive so many times but just couldn’t build myself up to do it. David said he wouldn’t hold his breath that it would happen, but as he was passing away, I sat with him and said I was going to sign up for one to make him proud.” 

“I thought I was going to be so nervous, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t wait to get up and jump out. I kept thinking that the further I’m up there, the closer I am to my brothers. I went through a cloud, and I put my hands out to feel my brother’s presence.  

“I had a photo of David holding up a UK flag at the Transplant Games on my t-shirt as I did the skydive. It looked like he was flying with me. I didn’t want to land, I just wanted to stay in the sky because it was beautiful.  

“When we landed, I burst into tears. I wish I’d done it sooner so that David could’ve been there to see me. It has been very emotional, like a rollercoaster.” 

Joanne doing a tandem skydive with instructor
Joanne during her skydive

What’s next?

During April, Joanne took on the challenge of swimming 100 lengths in a month and this May will be completing a 28-mile walk. She will also be returning to the Kidney Research UK London Bridges Walk on 14 July, alongside hundreds of our supporters.  

Joanne says: “I promised I was going to do so much for David but didn’t realise quite how much I was letting myself in for! I’ve had so much support from my husband, children, extended family and friends.  

“I met so many people at last year’s London Bridges Walk. We’ve kept in touch and have made our own group to walk at the event this year. They’ve helped me to come to terms with losing my brother. 

“When we did the walk last year, my brother was able to say well done when I’d finished. This year I’ll be walking in his memory. It’s going to be really difficult. Hopefully I’ll see lots of other supporters in London. They’ll know me from this article now and can come and say hello! 

“The London Bridges Walk is brilliant. You get to see all the views and walk with everyone. It’s so good. The staff and volunteers at Kidney Research UK are wonderful people. They make you feel so welcome. 

“I want to raise as much awareness as possible and to remember my brother. The more we raise, the more we’re going to fight this and strive for a cure. In years to come, maybe our kids or grandkids can benefit from research.  

"After supporting my family, I’m planning on leaving a gift in my will to Kidney Research UK too. Money disappears spending it on rubbish things, but this is important.” 

Family wearing purple t-shirts taking part at the London Bridges Walk

Are you feeling inspired to walk?

Join Joanne and many more of the Team Kidney community at one our our Bridges Walks. Join us in Newcastle, London or Glasgow.

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