My four kidneys and I

Male patient sitting on a chair
Everyone in Hungary knows András Both or at least his voice

He is the “voice” of the largest private TV channel in Hungary and a great actor. But many people may not realise he’s also the ambassador of the Hungarian National Kidney Programme. After first undergoing dialysis and later two transplantations, András Both took the time to share his experiences with us.

Farewell to my kidneys

Since 1993 or 1994, I have known that one day I would have trouble with my kidneys. Back then my kidney disease arose from a very simple infection. I first noticed something wasn’t right at work.

During a rehearsal I wasn’t able to stay on my feet. My colleague took me home and we thought I just needed some rest. But that didn’t keep my wife from worrying. She insisted on seeking out a doctor who performed an ultrasound before diagnosing polycystic kidney disease. I didn’t even know what it was! My doctor referred me to a nephrologist where I learned it’s a chromosome disorder.

The protocol: Yearly check-ups to monitor the disease’s progression, which later turned into check-ups every six months. At first my nephrologist reassured me I probably wouldn’t need treatment until I was 50 or 60. But life is unpredictable and in fact I needed care earlier. Constant fatigue was bringing me down. In hindsight I know it was due to my kidneys’ inability to filter my blood properly.

In 2003, I was put on the waiting list to get a donor kidney and was told that in the meantime I needed dialysis. I also learned that the average waiting time for a donor with my blood type, 0, was longer than others. I wasn’t worried about the operation. I knew what to expect because my nephrologist had discussed the details with me, and I decided to not stress about something beyond my control. I also reminded myself that an alert that a kidney is available does not guarantee a transplant will take place. Multiple elements must align for the nephrologist to go through with the operation.

Connected to the machine

My first visit to the dialysis centre wasn’t for treatment. I was there for a check-up and had a look around out of curiosity. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. ‘Me, here?’, I thought, ‘They can’t be serious!’ But I knew that dialysis awaited me – and that it would keep me alive. While on dialysis, I tried to focus on living my life and doing the things I enjoyed. At the weekend, I had more freedom, though I had to take my medication, eat smartly and monitor my liquids.

In for surgery again

The call for my second donor kidney also came unexpectedly. But this time I knew what to expect. I realised how important it was to have a good relationship with my doctor. He understood what I wanted and I followed his orders to get it, which made his job easier. Of course, a little luck played a role. For surgery, you have to be healthy – free of a cold, flu or other viruses. I was lucky not to be ill when I received the second alert.

The surgery was easier the second time, partly because of advances in drugs and surgical techniques, and I found the intervention to be much smoother. Knowing what to expect made the psychological aspect easier, too. It’s been almost three years since the surgery and I go in for a check-up every six months.

The first alert and surgery

Nevertheless, my wife prepared a hospital bag for me that I kept in my wardrobe. That way I was ready to go if I received an alert. And it actually happened, before I even started dialysis. ‘Good morning, András Both’, the coordinator said on the phone, ‘you have an alert now.’ Again life was unpredictable! I had one hour to get to the clinic. That’s when I started to panic.

Suddenly, my mind was working at lightning speed. Who should I talk to? What did I need to organise? I had to get there fast, but I didn’t know if I’d get the kidney! When there is an alert several patients are called in and a series of tests are required. At the hospital they took blood samples to find the most suitable recipient and after around one hour, I learned that the kidney was mine.

I don’t really remember the operation. I just know it hurt all over after I woke up. Back then it was an older surgical technique and a different kind of anaesthesia. Together with the doctors and nurses, we checked if the kidney had started working: it had! Now I had to wait for another three or fours days to make sure my body accepted my new kidney.
When the moment arrived, I packed my bags and went home.

After the operation

Three months later, things took a turn for the worse. My nephrologist performed an array of tests and I received a stent, a tubular metal mesh to widen a narrow artery, in a blood vessel near the kidney. Eventually my donor kidney failed, but I still have the kidney in my body!

Family life – honesty rules

Many people have asked how my family dealt with my personal journey. I am a big advocate of honesty, so I spoke openly with everyone – including my kids – from the beginning. Occasionally they visited me during dialysis, which gave them a glimpse into this part of my life. When I learned my donor kidney was not working, we didn’t let the situation ruin our lives. We still went on trips and travelled even if doing so required better planning.

Does a person who is transplanted live healthier?

Since the transplant, I’ve become more health-conscious. My immune system is weaker because of the anti-rejection drugs so I have to take care of myself. I take my prescriptions and talk to my doctor about everything. When I travel, I double-check I have the right quantities of all my medications as well. Other than this aspect, I live the same life as everyone else. Just with a little more care and a little more consciousness.