Former Westmeath footballer John Egan’s intercounty career was cut short after a kidney disease diagnosis from his teens intensified in 2018, with his kidney function dropping to just 7%.
Egan was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy over 15 years ago after he began passing blood in his urine. Egan had attributed passing blood to a knock to his kidney he received in a game for Westmeath’s under 15’s. However, after three weeks in Merlin Park Galway, Egan was diagnosed with the kidney disease.
IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger’s disease, is caused by an antibody build up in the kidneys, causing inflammation that hampers filtration.
Speaking on OTBAM on Friday, Egan said, “They don’t know how you get it or how you stop it. Generally, the end result of the disease would be dialysis or a kidney transplant.”
Egan spoke about how the disease and its treatments affected him during his club and inter-county career.
“The legs are like jelly; you’ve no energy to go by players. My game was based around fitness and being able to get around the pitch and being fitter than the man I’m marking.
“By 24 or 25, the cramping had become a major issue for me in games. If the kidneys aren’t filtering like they’re supposed to, there’s a lot of toxins left in the body, and lactic acid builds up quite quickly, so I was cramping up quite early.
“Cramps could pop up anywhere; I was getting cramps in my back, in my stomach, in my hamstrings, calves, feet, in my hands.”
Egan detailed how he did not want IgA nephropathy to put his inter-county career on the back burner, but issues often arose.
“All I wanted to do was to play for Westmeath, so I wasn’t going to put myself in any jeopardy by letting the kidney disease stop that for me.
“I was on the way to training, and I got a call from the hospital to get into A&E quick. I had the blood [test] done that day, but my potassium levels were way up, so they were fearful of cardiac arrest.”
The Athlone man recently began manual dialysis at his home and is currently on the transplant list for a donors' kidney. However, Covid has affected the number of donors available as well as the number of transplants taking place.
Egan said that his close family and friends have offered to be a donor, but he is acutely aware of the magnitude of the decision.
“I’ve had a couple of people go forward for organ donation; unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out just yet.
“The risk is more for the donors future… It’s an absolutely massive thing to do for someone. You’re essentially making a healthy person less healthy than they were four or five hours ago pre-operation.”
Egan hopes his story can prompt more people to become organ donors and that systemic changes may need to be made.
“It’s such a simple thing to do, it takes literally two or three minutes of your day, and then you have it done for life.
“I know in other countries there’s actually an opt-out system, so everyone is born into a system where they are an organ donor. And if you have certain beliefs, you can opt-out, so I think that’d be a great system if we could have that in Ireland.”
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