This time last year I was at Guy’s Hospital being given an anaesthetic I was told would make me have vivid dreams. They were right. I scored the last minute winner in the cup final at Wembley. (It was a 40 yard screamer, in case you were wondering). Meanwhile a few miles across London, at Great Ormond St Hospital, my 9 year old son Luis was being prepped for surgery to receive one of my kidneys.
Today is obviously an important anniversary for my family. It’s brought back a lot of difficult memories about the roller-coaster road leading up to the Big Day. It’s also led me to conclude that my decision to donate a kidney was essentially a selfish one.
Many parents will tell you they love their children more than words can express. For me, the thought of possibly losing one of them was completely unbearable. I may dither about whether to have honey or marmite on my toast. This decision, though, was the ultimate no-brainer. I signed the form stating that, if there was a last-minute problem with Luis, my kidney could go to someone else. But secretly I only wanted it to go to my son.
I feel very privileged and fortunate to have been in a position to help my son. With a new kidney, Luis can play with his friends, go swimming, and eat what he wants. He no longer has unsightly catheters implanted in his body. He is released from the ordeal (and constant – and dangerous – infections) of dialysis.
Every parent who has a child with a life-threatening condition will tell you how desperately they wish they could do something to help them. I had the chance to stop Luis’ suffering and give him a relatively normal life again. What parent on Earth wouldn’t want that ‘superpower’?
But this was the easy bit. All I had to do was to lie down, have a little sleep, sit in bed for a few days, then lie around not doing anything for several weeks and let other people open doors for you.
The tough bit was done by Luis, a 9 year old boy who composed himself with yoga and Arthur Ransome books to take himself into an operating theatre for major surgery (one of 10 operations he had in a year), knowing he would wake up with tubes and wires all around him.
The tough bit was also done by Luis’ twin Joe, who watched his brother coming in and out of surgery on multiple occasions, saw what dialysis really means for a young child, who had to be sent away because his own family couldn’t look after him, who had to care for his Dad (often in visible pain) when he was discharged, and who all the while is left wondering: “Will it happen to me?”
The toughest bit of all was probably done by my wife Siobhan. She was the one who coaxed Luis through the pain and fear. Who negotiated – and sometimes argued – with endless nurses and consultants to get her son a better deal. Who had to send her other son away, and wave her husband off – not knowing for certain if she would see him again. Who was there when he woke up in Recovery Room, surrounded by a phalanx of medics. And who didn’t eat or sleep for days, so she could be constantly by his side.
So I confess, I had it easy. And I was selfish.
But at least I know I can score a great cup-winning goal.