Kevin McDonald once feared for his life but is grateful for a second chance – after scoring his first goal since a kidney transplant.
The former Scotland midfielder grabbed Exeter’s second in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Cambridge to cap his comeback.
The 34-year-old, who has also had spells at Dundee and Dundee United, received a kidney from his brother, Fraser, in May 2021 having played with kidney disease since he was 18.
A long recovery – which included months in a family isolation bubble during the Covid pandemic – was needed before any return and McDonald knows where he has come back from.
“You’re always worried for your life because if something goes wrong you’re not waking up again,” he told the PA news agency.
“I didn’t dwell on things but you are worried for your life because anything can happen, it’s such an intricate operation. I’d watched one on the TV before and I’m sitting there thinking ‘f*** me’. It’s intense stuff.
“I can’t imagine what mum and dad were thinking because my brother was going in as well. I was also thinking ‘what if I come out and I’m a different character, a different person, I don’t enjoy myself or feel the same?’
“But the hardest time was saying goodbye to my partner (Lucy) before she dropped me off at the hospital. That was an emotional time.”
His goal against Cambridge, his first since scoring for Fulham at Millwall in April 2018, came just eight days after the birth of daughter Darcy. She joins Layla, who was born only two months after McDonald’s transplant.
The 34-year-old had been playing with IgA nephropathy, a kidney disease, since he was 18 but his condition deteriorated so much it had left him with only one working kidney, which was functioning at just 10 per cent.
It meant a transplant or dialysis and his body initially began to reject his brother’s kidney at Guy’s Hospital before being allowed home 18 days later.
Fast forward to the start of last year and McDonald joined Dundee United, playing 11 times, before moving to Exeter until the end of the season in January.
He has made four appearances with Saturday’s goal, a curling effort into the bottom corner, sealing victory and the former Wolves star is determined to enjoy his football with the Grecians 12th in League One.
“I’ve been mentally strong throughout the whole process. I’m proud of myself and it’s probably a testament to my own character to get through that and have a desire to continue to play,” said McDonald, who won two promotions to the Premier League in five years at Fulham before leaving in 2021.
“I’ve always been quite a laid-back character and never took many things for granted. I never put too much pressure on myself, in all aspects of life.
“I’m probably more laid back now. Little things, like mistakes in games, it’s just going to happen. It’s going happen to the best players in the world, it’s going to happen to everyone.
“There’s no point in dwelling on mistakes, there’s no point dwelling on things you can’t change – especially in football.
“I didn’t realise my last goal was such a long time ago. It’s always nice to score, I’ve not been blessed with many.
“From a life side of things you’re obviously grateful to be here, grateful to have a great brother, friends and family. I’ve got two daughters, one just born last month. I’m grateful for everything in life.
“As time has gone on, having a transplant, a couple of kids, life does change and you have to enjoy it. Enjoy everything while you can.”