EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘My greatest hope is that, whoever’s liver I do get, I do that person proud – it would be precious to get a second chance at life’: Former England star Kieron Dyer is staying positive in his battle with serious disease
- Kieron Dyer is suffering from a rare condition which requires a liver transplant
- Dyer stated that he hopes to do the person whose liver he receives proud
- 20 years ago Dyer was playing for England against Brazil at the World Cup
- Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates
Kieron Dyer is talking about gratitude for something that has not happened yet. He knows that his chance of new life depends upon another person’s death.
He knows that the second part of his life will be born amid the grief and mourning of another person’s family and friends. What matters to him most is that, if he gets the liver transplant he needs, he honours the memory of the person who saved him.
Dyer is 43 years old. Twenty years ago this week he was playing for England in a World Cup quarter-final against Brazil but last year he was told a rare condition he suffers from — primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) — a disease that scars the bile ducts and gradually causes serious liver damage, had worsened and that he needed a transplant.
Kieron Dyer is in need of a liver transplant as he is suffering with primary sclerosing cholangitis
Dyer revealed that his greatest hope is that he can do the person whose liver he receives proud
He has been on a waiting list for a donor liver for six months. ‘If I don’t have the transplant,’ he says, ‘my liver will pack in. There would be nothing they could do for me.’
His life now is about waiting. Waiting for a phone call from the donor team at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge telling him a suitable liver has become available. He can never travel more than two hours from the hospital and his mobile phone has to be with him at all times. His ambitions of becoming a top coach are on hold but he knows that everything now is secondary to getting a new shot at life and doing the memory of his donor justice.
‘Sometimes there are people waiting for transplants who only have weeks to live,’ he says. ‘I am getting increasingly fatigued but I’m not in the super-urgent category so I might have to wait a few more months until my liver has really deteriorated before I am called in. There are not enough livers for the demand of people who need them.
Dyer coached the Ipswich U23s team but his coaching ambitions have now been put on hold
‘I am just thankful that they have found out what’s wrong with me. I’m aware I’m dependent on someone else’s misfortune giving me the chance to live a long and happy life. My greatest hope is that, whoever’s liver I get, I do that person proud. They encourage you to touch base with the family of your donor after your operation and that’s something I thoroughly intend to do.
‘It would give me some comfort, I think, if I was in the situation of a family who had lost a loved one. They would have lost someone they have cherished and loved but through their generosity they have given someone else the chance of a long life. I hope I’ll earn their legacy. I wouldn’t want to screw that up. I know how precious a second chance would be.’
It was on June 21, 2002 that Dyer sprinted on to the pitch in the 56th minute of England’s last-eight tie against Brazil in the Ecopa Stadium in Shizuoka. Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side had just gone 2-1 down and Dyer was brought on for Trevor Sinclair. He was told to run at the Brazil defence down the left flank. He was 23 years old then and full of energy and verve.
He had defied expectations even to make the plane, overcoming a knee injury suffered on the last day of the Premier League season. He had played a part in England’s opening match, a draw with Sweden in Saitama, and the second-round 3-0 victory over Denmark. At the time, well before injuries wrecked his career, it felt as if his mere presence in Japan was a miracle.
He laughs quietly at the memory of his part in the Brazil game. Ronaldinho was sent off two minutes after Dyer came on but Brazil did not appear to suffer. ‘They pummelled us into oblivion with 10 men,’ Dyer says. ‘I came on supposedly to play left wing and run at Cafu. The way it turned out, he was running at me. He was a machine. I ended up at left-back for most of the half.
‘We got classed as failures for losing that game. They talked about us being the golden generation but Brazil’s front three that day was Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho.
‘They had Roberto Carlos and Cafu at full-back and Lucio, who was one of the best centre-halves in the world at the time, and Gilberto Silva, who was one of the best defensive midfielders. We had a decent team but they had three Ballon d’Or winners up front.’
Dyer was in action for England at the 2002 World Cup and recalls a tough test against Brazil
The England group he played with was the nation’s best for 50 years, according to Dyer
Dyer was also part of the England squad at Euro 2004, making one brief substitute appearance in the 3-0 victory over Switzerland. Those were halcyon days. That squad, he says, dismissing the recent spate of hysterical claims that Gareth Southgate is wasting England’s best crop of talent for 50 years, was England’s most talented since the 1970 World Cup.
The later stages of Dyer’s career were ruined by a series of injuries and poor medical advice. He fought and fought to regain his fitness but he took one blow after another until he could take no more.
He cherished his career towards the end and realised how precious it was and wished that he had not taken it for granted so much when he was younger. He called his autobiography ‘Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late’.
Now, though, he knows he is facing his biggest battle. ‘I was really scared when I got told I needed a liver transplant,’ he says. ‘I thought that was it. But then when the surgeon and the transplant team came round, they have got so many people in the team, co-ordinators, the anaesthetists, physios and psychiatrists. And you see people who have overcome the operation. It’s kind of routine for the hospital now, they do so many of them.
‘Your family and people close to you panic when you tell them. I could see when I told people, I could see the dread on them. It gave me the mental side back. I am not putting bravado on but you have to find that inner strength, not just for you but for them. They’re worried but I’m not worried.
‘I just feel that the way my life has been in the last six months, I am constantly fatigued and I can’t do what I used to do.
‘I am looking forward to it in a way. I am looking forward to being a brand new me and doing things better and quicker because I am still competitive.
Dyer revealed that he wants to beat the record for being discharged from hospital for the operation he is facing
‘The record for someone being discharged from hospital after this operation is nine days and I want to beat that. I am not fazed by it. I have got the mental strength to believe I will overcome the operation.’
He admits: ‘It’s odd to talk about good fortune, I suppose, when you need a liver transplant but it is my good fortune that I am young and fit and that the success rate for the procedure is really high.
‘When you are doing your tests, they bring people in to see you who have had transplants and they look incredible. They look better than me, that’s for sure. So I’m staying positive.
‘I get fatigued very easily. The liver is a filter. It gets rid of waste products and helps your body get rid of things. I did a charity bike ride some time ago and my legs are still in bits. I can tell my liver’s compromised and not functioning. I am not going to complain because I can still live a life.
Dyer is staying positive despite his condition, with the success rate for the procedure very high
‘When I was first diagnosed, my eyes were yellow and my skin was jaundiced. The PSC is the scarring of the tubes in your liver, the tubes that produce bile. If the scarring gets so thick, the bile can’t go through the tubes into your liver and it goes into your bloodstream. That’s why I was going yellow, where the bile was going into my bloodstream.
‘Until they do more research, the only thing they can do is a transplant but those symptoms I had have been eased by medication and I can do stuff with my children. I can still do sport but it takes a long time to recover. Sometimes in the afternoon I will sit down in front of the television and wake up six hours later.’
Dyer is aware that some people may think his condition is linked to his reputation for enjoying a party lifestyle, particularly during his spell at Newcastle United. But the reality is that Dyer was never a heavy drinker. He was diagnosed with a liver condition in 2002, which meant he had to have regular check-ups and biopsies and it was at one of those, several years ago, when PSC was found.
‘It was a few years ago that they first said I had it,’ Dyer says, ‘but they thought I would need a liver transplant maybe in my late 60s or early 70s. I thought I would have had a good innings by then and what will be will be.
Craig Bellamy praised Dyer as a player and backed him to be a success as a coach
‘But then I appeared on Sky as a pundit last year and people were texting me about my jaundice and saying my eyes looked yellow. When they told me I needed a transplant within a year that was a shock to the system because I was expecting to have one in 30 years’ time.
‘I went to Craig Bellamy’s book launch a few years back and he gave me a signed copy and wrote in it I was the best young player growing up that he had seen and if it hadn’t been for injuries I would have been some player. He wrote “trust me, in coaching and managing you could have an even better career”.
‘This is part two of my life and I want to see what I can achieve. The hard thing is that I am dependent on someone else’s misfortune to get it, but if I’m given another opportunity at life I’m going to embrace it.’
l For information and support dealing with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, visit the PSC support website at https://www.pscsupport.org.uk
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