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John’s story

John Burns, an adult English teacher from Bromley, donated his kidney in 2019 at Guy’s Hospital in London. Here he shares his story.

John’s story

I am originally from the Northeast but came south, initially to university in Brighton, followed by drama school. I’m a teacher, and although this comes first and I have a role as a teaching union branch secretary, I still gets a kick out of work as a film extra – I love the glamour!

I think there is possibly an altruistic gene which I’ve inherited from my mother, a regular blood donor and inveterate helper of family and friends. In the autumn of 2017 I read an article in a national paper written by a woman who had given a kidney to someone she didn’t know. I suddenly knew where my own altruistic urges should be directed.

I spent the earlier part of my life trying to succeed in various fields – including acting – and eventually coming to terms with the difficult questions about what makes one’s life worthwhile. I moved from an inward-looking concern with ambition to be realised, to an outward view as to what might help other people.

Having been inspired by the newspaper piece, I mulled it over. My son was awaiting his A levels results and I needed time to discuss with my partner and family my growing conviction that donation was something I had a moral imperative to do.

At an event for the charity Give a Kidney, I talked to a kidney recipient who had been on dialysis every night for six long years. The organ he received from an unknown donor gave him back 85% of his life and meant he could see his three sons grow up. Cue immediate emotional response. If I had questioned my motivation to donate before, this story certainly nailed my commitment.

My actual donation was a breeze! The confidence I felt in the team at Guy’s, from my coordinator to the surgeon, meant that fear was never part of the equation. The operation went smoothly, and I was out of hospital in four days and back to full strength in a few weeks. The only after effect was a boost to my self-esteem!

As a lover of the English language and a sometime poet, I feel that some lines from Tennyson’s Ulysses sum up the wish to do something worthwhile in our otherwise unremarkable lives:

“Death closes all: but something ere the end, Some work of noble note may yet be done.”

I would not feel as comfortable in my own skin as I do now if I had not donated my kidney.

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