It was a race against time. His kidney was failing and nine friends and family members had already tested negative for a match. Darren Ferguson was beginning to give up hope. Then a life-saving gift came when a close friend who had recently lost his wife to cancer offered Darren his kidney.
It’s a moving story by any standards, but in this case it’s all the more extraordinary because this wasn’t Darren’s first kidney transplant – it was his fifth.
Darren suffers from a rare condition that causes his body to dissolve the transplanted kidneys. The father of two from Milton Keynes, near London in the UK, has a new organ transplanted every few years – and each time they seem to simply disappear.
Darren (37) was born with a blocked kidney and had his first transplant when he was five after being diagnosed with stage 5 renal failure. Despite his enormous health challenges he’s gone on to lead a productive life. He has a full-time job as a social media manager and has a wife and two daughters, defying doctors who told him it was unlikely he’d ever have kids.
Darren received his fifth transplant in 2011 from a friend, Lee Ferrigan, whose wife, Keisha, had died of stomach cancer aged 32.
“He said to me, ‘I couldn’t help her, but I can help you’,” Darren says. “We went through all the tests and it came back a perfect match. Fingers crossed it will be the last one.”
It was clear there was something wrong with Darren soon after he was born. “All I would do was sleep all day. I didn’t even wake up for feeds.”
He was initially taken to the family’s GP but was then rushed to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for children where he was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure.
After his first transplant he became a regular at the hospital and even got to meet Princess Diana on one of her meetand-greets with sick kids. His second transplant took place when he was 16, and his third shortly after he’d celebrated his 21st birthday. The next kidney was implanted when he was 24, then aged 30 he received Lee’s donor organ. He used to have to visit the hospital three times a week and was on dialysis three times a day. But medical developments have since made it possible for him to receive treatment at home.
“I’m not sure how many kidneys I’ve got inside me, whether it’s five or three or one,” he says. “They normally dissolve over time and no one really knows why.” Darren’s job allows him flexibility around hospital appointments and to work remotely. Despite his health woes he and his wife, Amanda (32), managed to conceive daughters Imani (3) and Briella (2) without the help of in vitro fertilisation.
Darren, who has now written a memoir, How I Survived Five Kidney Transplants and Won, pays tribute to Amanda.
“She’s really supportive. Before we were married I told her, ‘This is my condition, I don’t know how long I’ll last’. But the crazy woman still married me!”
Darren says his family has nicknamed him “Robocop” because of all the hi-tech equipment required to keep him alive.
But he’s holding thumbs the fifth time will be lucky for him. “The life I live now is a lot different,” he says. “I now have the freedom to do what I want to do. I’m a lot fitter and healthier.”