Kevin McDonald, formerly of Fulham, Wolves and the Scotland national team, hasn’t had a straightforward life as a professional football – not least because he was diagnosed with a degenerative kidney disease as an 18-year-old.
The central midfielder came through the academy at Scottish side Dundee, but it wasn’t until making the first-team – and a subsequent transfer – that the condition became known.
“Burnley had agreed to sign me from Dundee; I went down to do a medical and the results came as a shock to everyone,” McDonald tells FourFourTwo. “By the time I turned 32 I’d had a great career, was still enjoying my football – then everything changed.
“A routine blood test at Fulham came back saying things had dangerously deteriorated.”
Unbeknown to McDonald, he had long been functioning with just one kidney, which was now only working at 10 per cent capacity. He required an urgent transplant if he was to live. Luckily, brother Fraser donated one of his kidneys in May 2021.
“You can never truly thank a person for that kind of sacrifice – I’m forever grateful to my brother and my whole family for their support,” he says. “My return started by taking a few steps in my hospital room, which left me exhausted.
“Then I began to build up my fitness doing walking and jogging. I progressed to training alone in the gym, then joined in Fulham youth-team sessions and played for the under-23s. I soon felt ready to start playing properly.
“But my contract was up at Fulham and, sadly, clubs weren’t exactly throwing themselves at me.”
McDonald eventually persuaded Dundee United, close to hometown Carnoustie in Scotland, to give him a short-term deal. After six months without a club, he resumed his career in English football at League One Exeter this January.
“I’m massively grateful,” beams the 34-year-old. “To Dundee United as well, for their gamble, and Fulham, who’ve always insisted I’m welcome back to train and use their facilities.”
McDonald scored his first goal for the Grecians in a 2-0 February defeat of Cambridge – “an incredible feeling after everything,” he concedes.
“I’ve been in football all my life,” reflects McDonald, whose wife gave birth to their second child the week before his Cambridge strike.
“I love being in the dressing room and still feel I contribute – I wouldn’t be here if not. I’m so grateful to be healthy, doing what I love and supporting my wife and family after everything they’ve been through. It’s fantastic to be back – life’s a blessing.”