The Transport Exchange Group is supporting Defenders 4 Kidneys. Could you help too?

It’s a real-time mapping system that helps couriers and hauliers win loads and reduce empty miles, but for the next 16 days the Transport Exchange Group’s Live Availability Map will also be charting an altogether different journey made by a convoy of vintage and modern Land Rover Defenders.

Those embarking on the 2,500-mile ‘Defenders 4 Kidneys’ adventure – which will take place on a tough and uncompromising off road route – are doing so to raise awareness and much needed funds for Kidney Research UK. Camping out most nights under the stars, and avoiding major roads and motorways, they will travel the length and breadth of the UK in a kidney-shaped route, starting from the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead on 23, June and ending their expedition at Great Ormond Street on 08, July.

While motor car enthusiasts will be no doubt be queuing up to have their photo taken alongside the 1958 Land Rover Series 2, which is one of five making the marathon journey, the real story is the brave men and women behind the wheel of the Land Rovers.

defenders 4 kidneys

Barry Jacobs – the man behind the story…

Driving one of the classic Land Rovers is Barry Jacobs, whose story is even more remarkable than the journey itself. It is one that began on a Manchester Polytechnic football pitch some 30 years ago, and ended up in hospital.

He explains, “I had gone for a 50-50 challenge, but neither my opponent or me won the ball. Instead, I got a football boot in the kidneys. There was no malice in the tackle. It was pretty harmless and I was able to play the full 90 minutes. But the next day, there was blood in my urine, and remembering that my father also suffered from kidney failure, I decided to have myself checked out at Manchester Royal Infirmary, which is one of the 25 stops on our journey.”

After undergoing a raft of tests in Manchester, Mr Jacob’s worst fears were confirmed. He was told by the specialist that he had autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), a condition where cysts grow in the kidney reducing kidney function.

Although there was a history of polycystic kidney disease in the family, the news still came as a shock. “As a 20-year-old, being diagnosed with ADPKD was very hard to come to terms with, and I knew that my life was about to change forever and not necessarily in a good way either. I immediately cast my mind back to when I was 15 and my father was ill. I didn’t quite realise how sick he was back then. After an unsuccessful transplant, he spent 25 years of his life hooked up to a dialysis machine before losing his fight to kidney failure. I was scared.”

Defenders 4 Kidneys land rovers

“My support team saved me”.

However, with regular monitoring from doctors at the Royal Free Hospital (the journey’s starting point) and support from Kidney Research UK and his family, the specialists who treated Mr Jacobs were able to keep his ADPKD at bay.

Remaining positive in the face of great adversity…

But as Jacobs entered his mid-thirties, his health grew progressively worse. He visited his consultant, who plotted his rate of kidney failure on a graph. The results revealed that he would need regular dialysis – to remove the excess water, solutes and toxins from the blood – by the summer of 2007.

He recalls, “Dialysis was taking up more and more of my time, so much so that I began to really struggle to run my business. My failing kidneys meant that I was in renal replacement therapy, as it is also called, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday for five hours each day. At the time, I owned two shops, and I tried to run the business from the hospital, but I found that it was very difficult to do so as I had to respect the fact that there were 12 other people also using the dialysis machines and so it was more or less impossible to make phone calls. Secondly, the battery life of a laptop wasn’t as good as it is today, and so it was tricky to even review or manage my accounts. Thirdly, a major side effect of dialysis is that it leaves you washed out and tired, and so I spent a lot of time after each session sleeping. Therefore, I could only allocate Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday to my business, which really wasn’t enough.”

But even regular dialysis couldn’t prevent kidney failure. Mr Jacobs lost his first kidney in September 2006 and had to have the second one removed in August 2007.

“Rather than letting it swallow me up, it made me even more focused and determined to live. I had a young family to support back then and I also had a successful business. I was enjoying life and was adamant that I wouldn’t let kidney disease beat me. But while I remained hopeful that I would receive a transplant, there were times when I wondered if it would ever happen.”

“Why a phone call is one of the best presents that I ever received”.

But in late December, 2009, Mr Jacobs received a call he would never forget – and one that was to signal the beginning of a long, difficult but eventually fruitful journey back to health.

“Christmas was around the corner. It was my wife’s birthday,” he remembers. “We were at home that year because it was difficult to organise dialysis sessions abroad. As day turned to night, we were busy putting up the Christmas decorations when out of the blue we received a call from the Royal Free. They told me that there was a kidney and asked how soon I could be there. I phoned my in-laws, who immediately came to look after my kids, and my wife and I rushed to the hospital.”

But there were still several hurdles to negotiate and few setbacks to overcome before Mr Jacobs went under the knife.

Continues Jacobs, “When I got there, I was told that there were two kidneys and two patients, but a few hours later it transpired that only one kidney was suitable for transplant. The doctors then carried out tests to establish whether my blood type was a closer match to the donor than the other person.”

But, it wasn’t until the surgeon walked into Mr Jacobs’s ward at seven o’clock the next morning holding a cold box with a kidney in it that he realised that he was going to receive a kidney. His joy was tinged with sadness, however.

“The walls were thin in the hospital and I still have vivid memories of the other patient been taken into another room and told that he wasn’t going to get the kidney. You could hear his anguish and feel his pain when he was given the terrible news.”

Within an hour, Mr Jacobs was wheeled into theatre and operated on for several hours.

“It was a highly complex surgery but it was successful. However, that said, it took me around two years to fully recover from the operation and resume a normal life.”

“My motivation behind the ‘Defenders 4 Kidneys’ journey…

It was at that point that Mr Jacobs decided that he wanted to help the thousands of men, women and children in the UK without kidneys, and to thank the families of donors whose loved ones give recipients like Mr Jacobs a second chance at life.

Mr Jacobs, who already sits on an advisory committee for Kidney Research UK, where he represents patients, decided to take more pro-active action but he had no idea about how he could make a difference. Then suddenly the idea came to him at a Kidney Research UK Engagement day.

defenders 4 kidneys

“Kidney Research UK and Kids Kidney Research told me that that one of its greatest challenges is to improve patient engagement at both mainstream and outlying transplant centres. That really motivated me. On our Land Rover journey, we decided to tell the stories of the thousands of brave children, and adults too who rely on these specialist centres and hospital units up and down the country. We also wanted to shine a light also on the work of the scientists, whose cutting-edge research often goes unrecognised. But our aim is not just to increase public awareness. We also have a goal to raise £50,000 for Kidney Research UK. With the help of great British public, we hope to achieve both objectives.”

Want to know how those Land Rover Defenders are coping on the challenging 156-mile a day cross-country route? The Transport Exchange Group is following the Defenders 4 Kidney team in real-time. Our Live Availability Map is coming soon!

If you wish to make a donation, you can do so by clicking here.

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