Scots rugby player diagnosed with serious auto-immune disease after noticing rash that 'wouldn't go away'

Chris Clarke when he was in hospital
Chris Clarke when he was in hospital -Credit:Chris Clarke

A Scots rugby player discovered he had a serious auto-immune disease when discovering a rash after a game that wouldn't go away.

Chris Clarke was 18 when he first noticed a rash once he washed mud off his face following a match. Following tests Chris was diagnosed with lupus - a disease that sees your body's immune system attack your own tissues and organs. The disease causes severe inflammation which can affect major organs, including kidneys, blood cells, the brain, heart and lungs.

And Chris was left fighting for his life after the disease attacked his kidneys and caused him to have a transplant of the vital organ, Edinburgh Live reports.

Chris, who was fairly healthy before his diagnosis, only had a visible symptom he had was the "butterfly rash". Chris suddenly found himself dealing with three different consultants looking after him and started medications, but he admits he didn't feel much different.

Chris said: “I had never heard of lupus. I had no idea until they said you’ve got this."

He was put on a chemotherapy drug called rituximab. He said: “It was a wonder drug, I felt less tired, less sore. But while this was all going on I was still working full time as a quantity surveyor.”

Chris had to go on dialysis in 2015 after his kidney function dipped to just 5-10 per cent. He opted for peritoneal dialysis, where the blood is cleaned inside your body as opposed to outside as with haemodialysis. Peritoneal dialysis meant it could be done at home after a few training sessions, which stops regular hospital visits.

In 2019, after two years of being on dialysis, Chris was put on the transplant list.

Chris with his partner Charlotte
Chris with his partner Charlotte -Credit:Chris Clarke

Chris was given the news he had dreamed when medics called at 2am one morning to say he had a donor.

He recalled: “It was absolutely amazing, I remember getting the phone call. I was on my dialysis machine overnight and got the phone call about 2am.

"I was still connected to the machine which had short cables, and I was trying to reach my parents' bedroom to chap on the door and wake them up.”

Chris and partner Charlotte had to rush to Edinburgh to Scotland's specialist transplant unit.

After the major op, Chris woke up in the ICU. He ended up so ill that he couldn't keep food or water down. And was ordered by Drs to drink 10 litres a day to try and flush out and kickstart the new kidney.

Chris said: "This is interesting, I always assumed they’d take the old kidneys out and put the new one in. But because this was my first transplant, they leave your native kidneys in at the back and put your new one round the front in the stomach area.”

Chris was dealt another blow in his health journey when in December 2019 he got a phone call to say that his new kidney had started to reject.

Chris has told how he was in shock and broke down when he was told the devastating news.

He stayed in for four weeks, and was unable to go home for Christmas. He recalled: “My mum brought in homemade Christmas dinner, it was still piping hot in the slow cooker, it survived the trip.”

His whole family, his partner and her family all came through to the hospital and squeezed into the little room.

Chris spent Christmas Day 2019 in hospital with family
Chris spent Christmas Day 2019 in hospital with family -Credit:Chris Clarke

Chris with his family, his partner and her family on Christmas day in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Chris recovered but over the last two years he has had rejection two more times. His kidney function is at 23 percent currently. It is looking likely he will have to go back on dialysis at the end of the year.

Now working as a support worker assisting people in their day to day lives, Chris said: “I thoroughly enjoy it. It isn’t too strenuous for me, it is a wonderful balance for me”.

Chris has used his experience to raise awareness of lupus. He even appeared on Greg James' BBC1 show to talk about the disease.

He said: “I really want people to understand what's going on, you can’t always see what is going on underneath. The best way I can describe what lupus is, your body is playing rugby, and instead of tackling the opposition it’s tackling its own team.”

May 10 marks World Lupus Day. LUPUS UK is the only national registered charity supporting people with systemic lupus and discoid lupus and assisting those approaching diagnosis. Its website states: "We are a network of more than five million people around the world who are living with Lupus. Lupus is a complicated condition which is still very poorly understood by the public and many within the medical profession."

Find out more about the condition here.

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