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Kevin McDonald opens up on his brave journey back from a kidney transplant to joining Dundee United

Kevin McDonald is keen to repay the Dundee United fans for their support
Kevin McDonald is keen to repay the Dundee United fans for their support

Kevin McDonald could be forgiven for feeling a bit emotional if he makes his Dundee United debut at St Johnstone on Saturday.

It’s 19 months since McDonald played the final six minutes in Fulham’s a 2-0 English Championship play-off win Cardiff City.

That was to be the last time McDonald played football.

A few months on, he wondered if he’d ever play again.

This will be no ordinary game.

The United new boy has bravely battled back from kidney transplant after his brother Fraser proved the perfect match.

Kevin McDonald is back in the game with Dundee United

He now carries a piece of his brother everywhere he goes and Fraser will be with him at McDiarmid Park.

Now McDonald is dreaming of a Dundee United debut, 17 years after his first start for city rivals Dundee.

“It’s been a long journey back,” said McDonald. “It’s also an unbelievable experience to be given a kidney by my brother.

“Because of that and all I’ve gone through in the last few years I don’t know how I’ll feel when I play.

“I could be a bit emotional. I just don’t know.

“I’m hugely grateful to Dundee United for taking me on. They know the risks involved. I could break down just like that.

“I have got no doubts in my ability to perform but you never know how you will react physically.

“The kidney’s not the issue. It’s my decision to stop playing for 18 months.

“I’m 33 now and haven’t played for over a year and half.

“But considering I had fully intended retiring when this first happened, I’ve come a long way.”

Kevin McDonald: I’m so grateful to my brother for his kidney donation

Kevin McDonald has joined Dundee United
Kevin McDonald bravely played on at the highest level with kidney issues

McDonald’s career came to an abrupt standstill as he discovered bad bloods in a routine check.

Proposed moves to Nottingham Forest or China were halted as he sought a donor.

An initial kidney transplant was rejected by his body.

Then best friend Danny Millar was identified as a match after a Royal Mail blood-test mix-up almost put paid to his brother’s chances of becoming a donor.

But after both brothers underwent surgeon’s knife in one afternoon, the recovery started.

McDonald went into a three month isolation period with Fraser and wife Lucy.

He lost 10 KGs and struggled with basic tasks, such as walking.

But after the birth of his daughter Leyla, McDonald has moved back to his hometown Carnoustie.

“The rejection part was the hardest part as you don’t know if it’s going to work,” added McDonald.

“It was a nasty rejection.

“They said they were so baffled how that happened when someone next to me, who was 85 years old, was in and out in three days from a random donor.

Kevin McDonald: The recovery

Former Fulham ace Kevin McDonald is said to be training with Dundee United.
Kevin McDonald helped Fulham secure promotion to the English Premier League in 2020

“I watched transplants on TV before to look into what they do and understand what was going on.

“My brother was only in for three days. He came in on the Friday and went down to get his kidney taken out.

“Then in the afternoon the kidney got put in me. He was there on Saturday and Sunday and left on Monday.

“He could hardly walk but was getting out of hospital.

“I asked: ‘Is that right?’ but was told that’s what normally happens.

“After the operation, I could not really do anything, especially in the first six weeks.

“Walking from my seat here to the tunnel area would leave me shattered.

“I lost around 10 KGs. I was weak but that has built back up over time and I’m now fully fit.”

McDonald ‘inspired’ by other sports stars

McDonald has absolutely no doubt that he has the ability to make a difference to United.

The midfielder has had a fantastic career.

He has played over 400 games at the highest level of English football – with the likes of Fulham, Wolves and Sheffield United.

He has also collected five Scotland caps.

McDonald reached out to several sports stars, including former Bolton star Ivan Klasnic about life after a kidney transplant.

Ex-Manchester United striker Andy Cole also got in touch after a similar experience.

And McDonald is adamant he can still make a real impact on the pitch and extend his stay at Tannadice beyond this season.

“I am quite a strong person,” added McDonald. “I set my sights on something and go and get it.

“It was important to look at other kidney patients and what they did.

“I got a few numbers – not necessarily those who were like myself as footballers.

“But runners and stars performing well in their own field.

“I spoke to them about coming back. I was assured within six months they were back to it.

Kevin McDonald felt emotional as he returned to Dens Park on Tuesday

“This gave me the confidence I needed to make my return.

“First of all, it’s about playing again. That’s the reason why I’ve signed a few months’ contract.

“The last thing I want to do is go out there, play and look like a bag of s***e.

“I don’t think that’s what will happen because I feel good and the enthusiasm for it is still there.

“If I can get a few 90 minutes together then I’m confident I’ll play to a good level.

“It’s all about getting playing again. When I do play it will be like a second debut.”