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Two Dads Who Met Picking Their Kids Up From School Become Lifelong Pals After One Saves The Other's Life By Donating His Kidney

Two Dads Who Met Picking Their Kids Up From School Become Lifelong Pals After One Saves The Other's Life By Donating His Kidney
Victoria and Mark with Andy and Laura celebrating a couple of weeks ago (PA Real Life/Collect)

Two dads who did the nursery run together have become best friends after one gave the other the gift of life by donating a kidney.

Keen gym goer Mark Wilson, 35, had just become a second-time father and was busy planning a family holiday to Orlando, Florida, with his wife, marketing executive Victoria, 32, and children, Emilie, five, and Lucas, one.

But his world came crashing down in April 2019, when a routine medical check through his work in an accident and repair shop found his blood pressure to be sky high.

Andy and Mark before the transplant (PA Real Life/Collect)

An ideal level is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg – with the first number referring to the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart contracts, and the second the blood pressure between beats – but his reading was 196/115mmHg.

Mark, of Gourock, near Glasgow, Scotland, went to his GP, who urged him to go straight to the hospital, where tests showed that he had stage five kidney disease.

He was told he would need a transplant, but with family members unable to donate, he feared time was running out – until help arrived in the form of Andy McCall, 32, a fellow dad who knew him from the school run.

Victoria and Mark with Andy and Laura celebrating a week after the transplant (PA Real Life/Collect)

Mark, who had the operation on Valentine's Day, said:

"When Andy offered, I couldn't believe it. At that point, he was pretty much a complete stranger."
"When my family and I heard that he was a match, we burst into tears – even the kidney coordinator was crying."
"It felt like our paths had been meant to cross. He knows I'll never be able to repay him. He has saved my life."

Victoria and Mark (PA Real Life/Collect)

Working out three times a week, Mark seemed perfectly healthy.

In October 2018, he noticed he was feeling tired, but put it down to having a newborn, Lucas.

Then, after a routine check-up found his blood pressure to be worryingly high, he visited his GP, who performed a blood test to monitor his kidney function.

The results showed that they were not filtering anywhere near enough waste – but Mark still looked so healthy that medics initially thought there was an error with the testing kit.

"They said, 'There must be something wrong with the readings because you shouldn't be able to stand,'" he recalled.

The following day, he went to Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where a biopsy showed he had just 12 percent kidney function, and stage five kidney disease.

Mark coming round from the transplant (PA Real Life/Collect)

He added:

"Victoria and I were convinced there was some kind of mistake – but blood test after blood test came back with the same result."

Mark remained in the hospital for eight days while medics carried out further biopsies and ultrasounds on his right kidney, before he was discharged and returned to his job as a workshop controller.

By August 2019, his kidney function had declined to just seven percent, and he was told he would need to begin peritoneal dialysis, which uses the lining of the abdomen to filter the blood.

Mark and Victoria with Emilie and Lucas (PA Real Life/Murray McMillan Photography)

He had a catheter – a soft hollow tube – fitted in his stomach to carry out the treatment.

Mark recalled:

"Dialysis meant I couldn't work anymore, and I actually started to feel ill for the first time."
"I had no energy and could no longer play with the children for long, or go to the gym."

Andy and Laura with Lily and Lewis (PA Real Life/Collect)

Around the same time, Mark got chatting to college apprentice coordinator Andy, from nearby Greenock, who has two children Lily, five, and Lewis, two, with his wife, radiographer Laura, at the school gates as they collected their daughters from preschool.

He opened up about his plight, and, struck by the similarities between the young families, Andy thought about what it would be like if his life was turned upside down.

As he grew sicker, Mark was told his best chance of survival was a transplant, and was relieved when his mom Morag Wilson, 67, was found to be a match.

But a last-minute test discovered she had an extra vessel on her kidney, which meant there was a cell incompatibility, so she could not go ahead.

Victoria also went through the process, but was not a perfect match.

"That was pretty hard to take," said Mark.

Mark with Emilie (PA Real Life/Collect)

With Mark in desperate need of a donor, Victoria decided to run a 10km race to raise money – and awareness – for the charity Kidney Research UK.

She uploaded a post explaining her husband's situation to Facebook, which was spotted by Andy.

Moved by the young dad's struggle, in an act of incredible selflessness, he offered to see if he was a match.

Victoria and Laura with Mark and Andy (PA Real Life/Collect)

"I said to Laura, 'Our families are so similar, we are the same age, with kids the same age, and Mark and I are both into our fitness,'" said Andy.

"It just felt like it could so easily be me. The thought that my life could be taken away from me in an instant really hit home."

A day after spotting the Facebook post, Andy spoke to Mark and Victoria who put him in touch with their kidney coordinator, and shortly afterwards he started undergoing blood, urine, and tissue tests.

Mark on dialysis (PA Real Life/Collect)

In November 2019, he was confirmed as a match and the transplant went ahead on February 14, 2020.

Andy said:

"Before we went in, we had our picture taken together and wished one another other good luck."

Following a four-hour operation, Andy was able to be by Mark's bedside as he came round from surgery.

"I felt proud that I'd been given the opportunity to help change his life and his family's life. It was an emotional moment," said Andy.

"I told him he was looking really good and we gave one another a high five."

Within 24 hours of the transplant, Mark's kidney function went from six to 78.9 percent.

Mark and Andy celebrating a week after the transplant (PA Real Life/Collect)

Andy stayed in the hospital for three days, during which time he was a frequent visitor to Mark's room.

Mark was discharged after a week, and both families got together the following night to toast to his health with some champagne.

After taking a couple of months off work to recover, keen runner Andy is now back to full health, and Mark is feeling "better than ever."

Victoria and Mark (PA Real Life/Collect)

Having forged a lifelong friendship, the men are "constantly" catching up via WhatsApp, and have been out for dinner and drinks, as well as taking their children to soft play together.

Mark said:

"We're having to isolate for now, but we've been keeping each other entertained over WhatsApp. We're in touch most days. And now I've got a runner's kidney, maybe I'll join him for a jog."

"As well as getting a new kidney, I've got a new friendship. It's hard to put into words how much it means."

Victoria and Laura (PA Real Life/Collect)

Andy added:

"To me, helping Mark was a no-brainer. I had the chance to shape someone else's life. There's no better feeling."

Later this year, Andy and Laura will be raising money for Kidney Research UK by running the Edinburgh 10k, while Victoria will be doing a sponsored skydive in May.

Victoria, who already raised £2,100 (~$2,600) for the charity by doing the Great Scottish Run, added:

"Until you don't have your health anymore, you don't realize what it means to not have it."

Mark on dialysis (PA Real Life/Collect)

She concluded:

"The fact that someone has given Mark his health back, especially someone he didn't know, makes it so much more special."
"It means so much to see there are good people in this world. It feels like we've won the lottery."

Follow Mark's story on Instagram @healthiest_looking_sick_guy1 and Andrew's on @runningwith1kidney. For more information visit Kidney Research UK here.