By Robert Firth
A dad with kidney failure facing a three year wait on the donor list is now expecting a new organ by this September – after 15 strangers responded to a plea he posted on Facebook.
Rob Wilkinson, 33, has been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers after 19 people in total came forward when he shared his search for a living donor on social media a month ago, alongside a photo of himself with fiancée Ellie 34, and his six-year-old-daughter Phoebe.
His life has revolved around frequent and gruelling four-and-a-half-hour dialysis sessions since being diagnosed with stage five kidney failure in July last year, which forced him to downsize his marketing consultancy business and left him too tired to play with his young daughter.
But Rob, from Llandudno Junction, Wales, is confident at least one of the 19 people who have come forward from all over the UK, which include an engineer and a renewable energy manager, will be a match – allowing him to get a new kidney two years before he would receive one from the deceased donor list.
Rob said: “I shared the post because I wanted to spread awareness about the need for living people to donate kidneys.
“I didn’t expect it to get much exposure at all – I certainly didn’t think anyone would get in touch.
“It has received almost 600 shares in less than a month and 19 people have got in touch saying they want to get tested to see if they can donate their kidney to me.
“15 of the people who’ve come forward to be tested are total strangers: they’re friends of friends on Facebook.
“Two of them are close friends and the other two are acquaintances.
“The way it blew up was just mental, I was shocked.
“I was in a bit of a dark place at the time and the fact that so many of these people were offering to help really hit me on the head and gave me a reason to keep moving forward.
“I was overwhelmed with happiness and real joy.”
Rob’s life was turned upside down in July 2019 after doctors told him he had kidney failure following a blood test.
He had been to the doctor after feeling tired for a number of months and was binging on sugar and caffeine in a bid to stay awake at work.
Initially Rob thought he had diabetes, but after falling asleep in the middle of a Red Arrows show in Llandudno, he decided to seek help from doctors and received the devastating diagnosis of kidney failure.
Rob said: “I was asleep while the Red Arrows flew past above: it was clear that something wasn’t right.
“I said to my partner ‘I need to get help’ and went for blood tests four days later.
“Within hours of going for the tests, I got a call saying I had to go to A&E immediately and they told me I had kidney failure.
“My kidneys were only functioning at four per cent of their capacity and doctors described me as a ‘plane crash’ because I had to go on to dialysis straight away.
“Normally people make a gradual transition on to dialysis in order to get adjusted.
“Dialysis takes over four hours and afterwards all your energy is zapped and you can’t do anything.
“On dialysis days I struggle to keep up with my six-year-old and be the dad I want to be.
“It was upsetting because at the time all I wanted to do was build up my marketing business.
“But the health commitment was so vast that I had to get rid of my office and three members of staff – it was really tough.”
Rob had kept his health struggles from all but his closest family members before sharing the reality of his desperation for a new kidney online.
Thanks to the people who have responded to his post, he now thinks he may be able to have the transplant operation as soon as September, once the potential donors have had blood and tissue type tests.
Among the people who responded to the post for a kidney donor were two of Rob’s childhood friends, Brian Challoner, 33, and Daniel James, 33, both from Llandudno.
Brian later told Rob he couldn’t face standing by and doing nothing to help now that he knew about Rob’s suffering from the post.
Rob said: “Even my best mates weren’t aware of how much I was suffering before I shared the post on Facebook.
“If you’re like me you don’t want to get it across that you need help and the post helped me to open up.
“I usually don’t like talking about myself; I don’t want to be constantly saying I’ve got kidney problems so prior to the post I had held back from saying I was searching for a living donor.
“When somebody gets a diagnosis about cancer people have plenty of knowledge about the illness, but lots of people don’t know how kidney failure holds you back.
“They couldn’t see it had taken such a big chunk out of my life because they wouldn’t see me on my down days and my dialysis days.
“Even one of my friends who is getting tested to see if his kidney is a match said he hadn’t seen how kidney failure had taken such a chunk out of my life.
“But I work in marketing and I thought I need to harness the power of Facebook to get the message out to find a kidney.”
Rob has also now begun searching for new office space in preparation for when he will no longer have to fit his life around dialysis and have more time to grow his business.
But he said the experience has also showed him there’s more to life than his job.
The dad-of-one added: “Despite the challenges, now I appreciate there’s other things in life but work.
“I remember there’s a picture of myself before I got diagnosed in Trafalgar Square on holiday and I’m checking my emails.
“Now I’m more regimented with my time and I try and be the best dad I can when I’m home.
“We don’t know how long we’re here for and checking emails shouldn’t take precedence over enjoying time with your family.”