Former Sheffield United man Kevin McDonald eyes up return to football after kidney transplant
In the week that David Brooks confirmed the shocking news that he had been diagnosed with stage two cancer at the age of just 24 years old, another former Sheffield United man made another big step towards returning to professional football after undergoing a kidney transplant.
Kevin McDonald, who played for the Blades between 2011 and 2013 and earned five caps for the Scottish national team, revealed earlier this year that he had been battling a chronic disease for his entire football career.
The midfielder, still only 32, revealed one of his kidneys did not work and the other was down to around 10 per cent function, before his brother Fraser offered to donate after being confirmed as a match.
Despite McDonald’s body initially rejecting the new kidney, the operation was a success and after training with his former clubs Fulham and Dundee to regain fitness, the former Blade is now looking to resume his football career.
“It was an unbelievable gesture,” McDonald said of his brother’s donation. “I’ll be forever grateful. Always.
“There’s no words for it. Now were both sat here today, it’s a brilliant outcome. Fraser had to come here for two weeks to isolate and it was the calmest we’d been. We played Mario Kart and just chilled.
“When I went into hospital, that’s when it hit home for both of us. It wasn’t a teary moment as such but you could feel the emotion from both of us. The next time I’d see him would be with his kidney inside of me, so it was a strange moment but a good moment.
“I was scared for my life, of course. I was panicking. I remember being sat there and shaking, thinking: ‘This is it now’. The woman was brilliant in trying to relax me but I couldn’t relax, no way.
“I went in a fit enough footballer and you don’t think of the initial after effects. I tried to get up normally and I couldn’t, it was an awkward pain and you need to adjust.
“I couldn’t move too much and when I did it was like my gran’s pace, who’s 95. It was just about getting back to basic things, like a child learning to walk again.”
Then McDonald received what he describes as “the worst news”, that his body was trying to reject the kidney.
“It was quite a significant rejection for a young fit person and with my brother being a match,” he added, speaking to Sky Sports.
“I could tell [the doctors] were concerned. They put a line in me and started a 10-day treatment. We slowly got better over the 10 days and my blood levels came down and down. By day 19 I was home and felt alright in myself and having a laugh.
“I felt good quite quickly in that sense but I had a walk or had a shower and I was shattered. I’d lost all muscle on my legs and arms. I’d be having tea and needed a break, laying on the sofa.
“It was hard coming home at first - hopefully there’s no more rejections, touch wood - but I had to switch my mind and be a dad. Lucy was 35 weeks pregnant and the baby could have come any time.”
McDonald’s baby daughter was born safely and his ambitions turned to pulling on the boots again – doing so for the first time since the operation in a park in Cobham. Fraser joked that, with his kidney inside Kevin, he expected to see a bit more pace from his brother when he eventually returned to midfield action.
“I’d been training on the streets as part of a training plan but the pitch was rock solid,” McDonald smiled. “It was good to have the boots back on but three hours later, it was the worst thing I’d ever done.
“My body was in bits. But it was good. It was a buzz to get them back on. I didn’t know how my body would handle the movements of football.
“It’s not like doing a 100m sprint or shuttle runs, it’s the short, sharp movements. My touch was miles off it at the start and the U23s at Fulham were on to me. They’re chirpy anyway, but I told them we’d get there in the end.
“It was hard at the time but it was much needed. It was so good to be back involved. The banter, getting back on the ball, being back in a football team. That was the first step of many.”
Brooks is at the other end of a similar journey, having outlined his determination to play again despite being diagnosed with stage two Hodgkin lymphoma. He is scheduled to begin his treatment next week, with United and a number of his former Bramall Lane teammates sending their best wishes after the shocking news broke on Wednesday.
“It’s been a very tough week for David and his family, firstly,” Cherries boss Scott Parker said.
“It’s devastating news in terms of his diagnosis. For the football club and his teammates and every member of staff and friends, it’s been very difficult.
“It’s about showing him the support and strength he;s going to need in these coming months, really. He’s a liked and loved member of the team and speaking to his teammates, I see that very clearly.
“There’s real hurt and we want to support him and help him through this next stage of his life. We’ll unite together around David.
“He’s a strong boy, and I’ve no doubt he’ll be back amongst us and doing what he does best, and what he loves doing.”