Kola lives a normal life today thanks to kidney transplants.
Cardiff resident Kola Ponnle can live a normal life today thanks to the ‘selfless’ actions of his father, brother and an anonymous kidney donor.
But he believes organ donation can do more than save lives – it also has the potential to bring communities closer together.
Kola’s life changed in 2007 when a surge of blood pressure caused irreversible kidney damage. Within months of feeling unwell he was suddenly faced with the prospect of kidney failure and many years of dialysis.
His father immediately offered to donate one of his kidneys but the organ failed within weeks. So Kola went on the transplant list and resigned himself to a rigid regime of haemodialysis, knowing that it may take many years before another suitable kidney became available due to a shortage of donors from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
"During my time on dialysis at the University Hospital of Wales I told myself ‘don’t keep thinking about a problem you can’t solve – it’s better for you to live with that problem and make it work for you." says Kola.
“So I just continued life on dialysis as usual and tried to live as normal a life as possible. I made friends and I even met my wife who’s a doctor. I was happier where I was. I wasn’t complacent; I just didn’t want to go through another failed transplant again.
“I continued on dialysis for about seven years and then my brother said he wanted to donate his kidney. At first I was very apprehensive and really resisted his offer. I couldn’t face the thought of him not being able to help his children if they ever fell ill and needed a kidney. I eventually agreed but he wasn’t a match – which, to be honest, was a relief. But the guy was stubborn and signed himself up to the cross over transplant programme (a system where my brother’s kidney could potentially be matched to an anonymous recipient and I could receive a kidney from an anonymous living donor).”
Kola eventually received his second transplant in 2014 but that too began to fail. Investigations by his consultant nephrologist Dr Sian Griffin soon revealed that there was an underlying reason; he had a rare condition called atypical Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (aHUS). And although a new drug called Eculizumab could treat the condition, it was not yet available to patients in Wales.“
Dr Griffin was amazing. She gave me a glimmer of hope and the more I walked through that corridor of hope the more the light became brighter,” says Kola.
“She started a campaign with the Welsh Government to ensure that I and others like me could get Eculizumab. I had to be treated in London for a short time but I was soon able to return to Wales after they successfully secured funding for the treatment and I’ve been living a normal life ever since.
“I’m doing really well now thanks to the selfless actions of my family and a donor I don’t even know. They sacrificed so much to help save my life and I hope other people from minority backgrounds will follow their example and save more lives.
“I don’t know what it is to give but I have definitely experienced what it is to receive and I will be forever grateful. If I was able to give someone any part of me that I could spare I would always be happy in the knowledge that I actually helped someone remain with their families rather than die.
“If more people joined the organ donation register I believe our communities could become more inclusive and cooperative. We would look after each other more because we would be part of one another. So I’d urge people to step up and sign up.”
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