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This Doctor Can: training as a physician while awaiting a kidney transplant

Dr Abi Gupta, a consultant geriatrician in the West Midlands, was placed on the kidney transplant list just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK. Here, he tells his story of training to become a consultant while battling life-threatening illnesses.

I came to the UK from India in March 2006 to take my Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) exams and pursue specialist training. After a period of clinical attachment in a London hospital, I was fortunate enough to get onto a foundation training programme in Yorkshire, and two years later I moved to the Midlands to start my core medical training (CMT). After completing my CMT, I took a few years off from training to travel and worked as a locum specialist registrar in various hospitals across England before finally joining a specialist training programme in geriatric medicine in 2015.

I had always considered myself to be in reasonably good health, apart from being a bit overweight. However, one evening during an on-call shift, I developed a severe headache and noticed that my blood pressure had gone through the roof. The following day I went to my GP, who referred me to hospital. I underwent various scans and investigations, and over the course of next ten days I was diagnosed with two autoimmune conditions: IgA nephropathy with Stage 3B chronic kidney disease and primary hyperparathyroidism. I also developed Bell’s palsy the day before my discharge from hospital. I took some time off work to adjust to these life-changing medical conditions and was incredibly worried about how I would complete my specialist training.

Much to my relief, I received tremendous support from my educational supervisors, occupational health teams and from my colleagues. I continued with my training through ST5 and into ST6, and prayed that my kidneys would keep going at least until I achieved my CCT.

Towards the end of 2019, my kidneys gave up and I was referred for renal replacement therapy and placed on the kidney transplant list. I opted for peritoneal dialysis, which meant I had to undergo an operation for a tube to be fitted for dialysis treatment. Following this procedure, I attended training to perform self-dialysis. I started peritoneal dialysis in early 2020 with an automated peritoneal dialysis machine that I used every night. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I was advised to shield and during the summer of 2020 I was admitted to acute hospitals with nose bleeds, severe pneumonia and fluid overload. Thankfully I didn’t catch COVID and was therefore not admitted to an intensive care unit. The consensus was that I needed haemodialysis, but I opted for continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). Following another complication due to peritoneal dialysis, I was switched on to haemodialysis, which I now need three times a week.

Despite all the challenges posed by my health, I finished my medical training in August 2020 and started working as a consultant the following month. I’ve had several health complications since, but I thank God and the NHS for helping me to achieve my dream of completing specialist training and working as a consultant in NHS. I now wait with bated breath for the gift of life (a donor kidney), which I have been told will be coming via a phone call anytime soon.