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“Celebrating my kidneyversary ten years on from my transplant”

11 June 2024

Diagnosed with kidney disease as a baby, John Savage, from Loughborough, received an organ donation in March 2014 after his kidneys deteriorated. Now aged 43, John and his family are celebrating his tenth kidneyversary 

John says: “My kidney has the nickname ‘Thridney’ because it’s my third kidney, so it’s Thridney’s tenth birthday. We had a little party, and our family came round. My wife, Mel, made a special cake by cutting out a kidney shape from an iced sponge and putting a ten candle on top! 

“I can’t believe it has been ten years, I’ve been so lucky with it and haven’t had any issues with rejection. I’ve never looked back; it has been amazing.” 

Mum, dad and little girl
John, with wife Mel and their daughter

Diagnosed as a baby

John was first diagnosed at three weeks old, when doctors discovered a blockage in his system and attributed it to posterior urethral valves. This is an obstruction in the urethra caused by flaps of tissue, which can lead to the bladder not emptying properly, causing kidney infections and other issues.  

John says: “When I was born in the early 80s, they didn’t have 20-week scans, so it was picked up late and by the time they found it I was very ill. They saved my life, but significant damage was done to the nephrons in my kidneys, and they slowly deteriorated. 

“I didn’t really know the ramifications of my kidney disease until my mid-twenties. I had a routine appointment and was told that my kidneys had seriously deteriorated, meaning I’d need dialysis and/or a transplant in my thirties. That was a complete shock.” 

My kidneys began to fail

As John’s kidneys continued to deteriorate, he had to make unwanted adjustments to his life to combat the way his disease was impacting him.  

John says: “I work as an actor but when my kidneys were failing, I had to give that up. I wasn’t able to function as much and acting can be very physical as well as mental. My career had just started taking off. I’d done a feature film, as well as appearing in programmes like Doctors and Emmerdale. Then it all ground to a halt, and I had to put my career on hold. 

“Fortunately, I had a side career in IT, so I was able to do software testing. That’s the great thing about IT, you can wander around like a zombie, and nobody notices! That kept me going. I’ve always worked, and the idea of not having something to put my attention into was difficult. I don’t think I’d have coped very well, and I don’t know how I’d have paid the bills. 

“Just before the transplant I was struggling more and more. It was frustrating because I couldn’t do the things I wanted to. I always enjoyed going to the gym but when I’d try it’d be upsetting because I just couldn’t function as normal.” 

Receiving a transplant

As John went into renal failure, he was added to the NHS waiting list for a transplant.  

John says: “The call came at just the right time because my mum was going to be a live donor and thankfully didn’t need to go through that. I’m very grateful to have received a kidney from a deceased donor in that respect. Thankfully I had a pre-dialysis transplant. 

“It was a whirlwind, and fate played its part. I just happened to have that Friday off work, and normally I’d have been in a meeting when the call came and would have missed it. I was second in the queue for the kidney as they invite two patients in. The person ahead of me had a chest infection and had to be sent home.  

“There were so many checks to go through, so it creates a level of anxiety because you’re not sure if it’s going to happen. When it did, there were real mixed emotions of feeling excited it’d be me, but also guilt because this guy who looked so ill was missing out. 

“I wrote to my deceased donor's family afterwards but can’t imagine what they were going through. That person made an amazing decision to donate and must have saved at least four lives via organ donation. I’ll forever be grateful.” 

Life with my new kidney

“My kidney has worked amazingly well, and I already felt better the afternoon after the transplant. I was lucky to benefit from a new procedure called warm blood perfusion, whereby they keep the kidney full of warm blood while it’s transported so it’s more viable. 

“That summer was such a great time, I was going out with friends, back at work, and thinking about getting my acting career going again. It was like I had my life back. I met my wife, Mel, on an acting job and I’d never have met her if it wasn’t for the transplant. We’ve got a four-year-old child now. 

“I’ve been building my career back up and do a lot of simulation work with professionals like medical students, pharmacists and police. I work with NHS Blood and Transplant and use my experiences to support staff in practicing difficult conversations about organ donation with grieving families. It’s a small way I can give back. 

“I still get some anxiety before my routine appointments, but I try not to think about whether my kidney function will decline again because it’s not something I can control. I’ve been lucky so far and I’m so grateful for that. An IT colleague received a kidney transplant and his has lasted for 41 years. That’s given me something to aim for. 

A round cake, with white icing and a pink kidney iced on top
John's kidneyversay cake

“Kidney disease is a lot more prevalent than people realise, and promoting the importance of monitoring your kidney health is really important. I’m hopeful as things move forward, they’ll find more treatments. Kidney Research UK do amazing work in helping push the frontiers forward to find new innovative ways to help people. 

“I’m looking forward to celebrating more kidneyversaries over the coming years, but never take my health for granted as I know things can change quickly. I'm very thankful for my transplant and all that I’ve been able to do over the past ten years because of my donor's kindness.” 

Cup of coffee on the table next to two kidneyversay celebration greeting cards

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