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‘I'm so grateful to have my life back'

A NEW LIFE: Tayo Idowu with sister Dela

ON WEDNESDAY October 15, Christmas came early for south Londoner Tayo Idowu.

His present came in the form of a voicemail message from doctors at London’s Guy’s hospital. And that voicemail brought news that he had been desperate to hear for four and half years.

Those years had been a real struggle for the father-of-two from east Dulwich. In 2010, his life changed when he was diagnosed with kidney failure.

He was told by doctors that if he was to have any chance of surviving and having a normal life he would need a kidney transplant.

That news would be devastating for anyone.

But added to that was the fact that his chances of receiving a new kidney were slim – 66 per cent of black and minority ethnic (BME) communities living in the UK refuse to give permission for their relatives’ organs to be donated compared to 43 per cent of the rest of the population.

Yet people from BME communities are more likely to need an organ transplant than the rest of the UK as they are more susceptible to illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes and certain forms of hepatitis, all of which may result in organ failure and the need for a lifesaving transplant.

Blood and tissue type are among the most important factors when organs such as kidneys are allocated to patients and organ matching is likely to be closer when the ethnicity of the donor and recipient are the same.

As a result of so few BME people being on the national UK donor register, people like Tayo who needed a kidney transplant often have to wait a year longer than a white patient.


Many may die while waiting for an organ to become available.

Since being diagnosed with kidney failure, he visited Guy’s hospital every day for dialysis treatment, hoping and praying in the meantime that a donor would become available.

“I remember receiving the news about the diagnosis and it was a real shock” recalls the 57-year-old “but it was the love and support of my family that pulled me through that tough time. With that support I couldn’t allow myself to wallow in misery or be down. I wanted to be strong for them.”

And then, on that October morning, as he prepared to start work in the marketing business he runs from home, he got the voicemail that changed his life.


“I was just getting ready to check my e mails when I heard a voicemail from the transplant team at Guy’s saying that I had to come to the hospital immediately as they had a kidney for me. At first I thought it was a prank call and to check what was going on I rang back.

“They told me I had to get to the hospital in the next half an hour as a kidney had become available from a woman who had recently died. It was a complete surprise. In a moment like that your mind goes into overdrive. After waiting for so long so many things go through your mind. On the way there I’m not ashamed to admit I was crying. I called my wife and my sister to let them know what was happening.”

Upon arriving at Guy’s Tayo was met by doctors who had to run a series of medical checks before they could proceed.

After a two hour wait, he was told the operation could go ahead. And he says it has given him his life back.

DEBATE: Dela’s film We Are Family, in which Tayo starred

“After the operation I was in a lot of pain but the pain and the emotions I was going through were underpinned by joy. The only way I can describe it is like being a car that was running on four cylinders and then all of a sudden being forced to run on two Now I’m back on all four cylinders again and raring to go. The operation has given me a new lease of life. It’s the best early Christmas present I could have wished for and no Christmas present I get after this is ever going to top it. I want to say a big thank you to the team at Guy’s for their work.”

Also celebrating this Christmas will be Tayo’s family.

When he was diagnosed with kidney failure, sister Dela, distraught at the prospect of him having to wait a long time for an organ transplant or worse, not receive one at all, decided to become a living donor.

A living donor can be a family member, a friend or anyone who wants to donate an organ while they are still alive.

Sadly, after a nine month process of extensive medical tests and consultations, doctors advised her against becoming a donor because of the possible complications to her own health.

But Dela never gave up in her bid to help her brother.

Disappointed that she couldn’t become a donor, Idowu wrote a book about the experience, More Than A Match, to help others who were also thinking about becoming living donors as well as founding Gift of Living Donation (GOLD), an independent agency that supports people wishing to become living donors.

She then went on to write and produce a 30 minute film drama about organ donation called We Are Family despite having no previous experience of film production.


We Are Family tells the story of an African Caribbean family, the Williams, who face an emotional rollercoaster to try and save the life of a loved one diagnosed with kidney failure.

Through her book and dvd several members of the BME community have been inspired to join the organ donor register and also come forward as potential living donors for their family members.

For her Tayo’s transplant marks the end of one journey and the start of another.

“I was so happy for Tayo and that the wait was finally over” she says. “Everything had finally come full circle. Seeing the transformation in my brother so soon after his transplant reinforces the fact that organ donation is so important as it gives people back their lives. The work Gift of Living Donation is doing to raise awareness of organ donation within the BME community is vital to the quality of health and well being of many people living with chronic kidney disease.”

Tayo is also backing new efforts to raise awareness of the need for more organ donors from black and minority communities.

“Hypertension, hepatitis and high blood pressure are all conditions that lead to kidney failure. These conditions are higher among black communities. Everybody from an African or Caribbean background is touched by this in some way. We all know of someone who has high blood pressure or kidney problems. I understand that there is mistrust of the NHS or fear of what organ donation involves but I would say that trust is misguided.

“As far as I’m concerned it’s yesterday’s thinking. In my hospital ward, 80 per cent of the patients were black and they cut across all ages from people in their early 20s to people in their mid 60s. We are among the groups who most need to be talking about this. The more we can raise awareness and get out there, the more we can get these discussions going.”

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