Sheffield dialysis patient’s football fundraising mission

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A 31-year-old dialysis patient who has spent his entire life visiting the city’s hospitals is hoping to raise tens of thousands of pounds to thank the Sheffield hospitals’ staff who have cared for him.

Sam Blackburn, from Killamarsh, has had one kidney transplant, is hoping for another and has undergone months of dialysis after being diagnosed with chronic renal failure as a baby.

Now, the IT sales executive is hosting a trio of fundraising events – from a football tournament, to a golf day, to raise funds for Sheffield Hospitals Charity.

Sam said: “I was born with chronic renal failure. My parents knew something wasn’t right straight away. When baby boys have a wee, there’s usually a sprinkle in a sort of rainbow shape, but mine just used to trickle out.

“I was diagnosed at six months old with vesicoureteral reflux (VUR), which is where urine flows out of the bladder and back up the ureters.

“It resulted in infection after infection and, at nine months old, I had a full and partial nephrectomy. My right kidney was removed fully and the left was partially removed. The reflux was so severe that it damaged my right kidney to the point that it was none existent. Fortunately, the diagnosis was made before the left kidney was killed completely.

“I was left with just half a kidney at only nine months old. But that single half kidney managed without any medical intervention, apart from medication, for 21 years.

“Growing up I had regular hospital check-ups, but when I was 21, tests showed that my half kidney had deteriorated. The doctors weren’t happy to leave things as they were, so it was decided that I should start Peritoneal Dialysis for the first time.

“I had an operation to put a catheter tube into my belly button. This was so painful, I was really scared. I was 21 and I didn’t appreciate or understand what was happening. I was supported really well by hospital staff which made things so much easier to cope with.

“The dialysis itself is painless, but makes it hard to lead a normal life. Then, after only three months on dialysis, I received a call from the hospital saying they had a kidney. I was at a friend’s wedding in Nottingham at the time. Four hours later, I was at the Northern General Hospital having the transplant. It was a complete whirlwind. The NHS is awe inspiring when I think about the speed of how it all happened and all the people involved in caring for me. Even until this day, I still can’t get my head around it.

“The kidney was compatible and for nine years I lived a normal life. But kidneys don’t last forever – there’s no average life span and over time, it has deteriorated and blood tests showed it was much worse than hoped. I had another dialysis operation at the end of January, and have since returned to work.

“So I don’t need to travel to receive my dialysis treatment, the hospital team came out to my work and set up a dialysis machine and check everything was ok for me to do it there. This was such a massive help because I just wanted to carry on with as normal a life as possible.

“I’m currently back on the transplant waiting list, but my little brothers, Joshua and Saul are being tested to see if they are able to donate a kidney. We’re a close family, but the fact they have offered is still extremely humbling. It’s an intense process, including hourly blood tests, chest x-rays, ECG and MRI scans. They also have to have a psychological assessment to check they’re mentally aware of what will happen.”

Unlike many other types of organ donation, it’s possible to donate a kidney while you’re alive because you only need one kidney to survive. People who need a kidney transplant, but don’t have a suitable living donor, will have to wait until a suitable deceased donor kidney becomes available.

On average, the waiting time for a deceased donor kidney transplant in the UK is two to three years. From April 2014 to April 2015, around 3,000 kidney transplants were carried out in the UK, but there were still more than 5,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney by the end of this period.

“I’m often asked how I feel about everything that has happened to me, but the reality is that I have to get on with things- I have no choice. I can either embrace it and take it as it is, or shy away from it. I make best of a bad situation and so do my family. We don’t make a big deal of it and try to make light of it.

“Through the years the staff at the Northern General Hospital have been incredible. They’re like an extended family. They make fun of me when I go in and tell me I spend more time in there than they do! I’m an active fundraiser as they’ve made me feel at ease during my life. It’s time to give them something back,” said Sam.

With the help of his colleague, Stuart, Sam is hosting a football tournament this month which will be held at Crystal Palace FC, to raise funds for Sheffield Hospital Charity. In June, there will be a ’72 holes of golf in one day’ event, and Sam’s female colleagues will take part in ‘Pretty Mother’, a 3k run and obstacle course.

In total, Sam has raised more than £15,000 for Sheffield Hospital’s Charity. For fundraising ideas, please call 0114 271 1351 or email charity@shct.nhs.uk.