Schoolboy wins gold at Transplant Games following life threatening illnesses

Last updated: Monday, 18 September 2023

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A schoolboy has defied the odds and won a gold medal at the British Transplant Games after receiving a kidney transplant and care for kidney cancer at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

Philippe Argiropoulos, 8, from Bexley in south east London, was born with 2 rare kidney conditions known as kidney dysplasia, where the kidney does not fully develop in the womb, and posterior urethral valves (PUV). Children with PUV have a blockage in the tube which runs from the bladder to the outside, causing urine to reflux back up to the kidneys. This causes renal failure, which if left untreated, can eventually lead to death.

Philippe has been treated at Evelina London Children’s Hospital since moving to the UK from New York when he was 5 months old.

When he was just 2 years old, one of Philippe’s kidneys stopped working completely and he had an operation to remove it. He had only 5% of the function left in his remaining kidney, and the following year his dad Damian donated 1 of his kidneys to replace the kidney function of the one previously removed.

Damian donated one of his kidneys through the UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme as a pooled donation with 2 other pairs, coordinated by Guy’s Hospital. Through this scheme Philip received his kidney transplant.

Damian Argiropoulos, 45, said: “He made a good recovery following the procedure, until 2 months later when he started complaining of severe abdominal pain. This unfortunately got worse and the transplant team at Evelina London sent him for an ultrasound scan. He was diagnosed with cancer in his original remaining kidney.”

The scan showed that Philippe had a tumour the size of a pomegranate on his kidney. Known as post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD), the tumour was a type of lymphoma that sometimes occurs following a transplant.

Damian continued: “Philippe was really ill, and was back as an inpatient on Beach ward at Evelina London. His cancer treatment was delivered between Evelina London and the Royal Marsden. He received 2 rounds of a targeted cancer drug called Rituximab at Evelina London, before being transferred to the Royal Marsden for 6 rounds of chemotherapy and 2 lumbar punctures.

“He was so vulnerable after his immune system was suppressed for the transplant, and then with the chemotherapy, but we were really lucky and the treatment shrank the tumour and contained the cancer. Philippe was transferred back to Evelina London for surgery to remove the kidney and tumour.

“For the following year and a half, we were in and out of Beach ward, as Philippe’s immune system was so weak he would catch every illness and infection. However, he’s made such an incredible recovery and is thriving now. We’ve moved to having check-ups every 6 to 8 weeks, which is such an amazing milestone to achieve as previously it was twice a week!”

Philippe and his family attended their first British Transplant Games in 2019, and were delighted to return this year following the pandemic.

The British Transplant Games see hospital teams from across the UK compete in 25 different sports events, such as swimming, tennis, table tennis, badminton, cycling and athletics.

Supported by Evelina London Children’s Charity, each year the specialist children’s hospital sends a team of kidney transplant patients and their families, known as the Evelina VIPs (Very Important Penguins, referring to the hospital’s urology and kidney department, Penguin Ward), to compete.

Damian continued: “We were so excited to be back at the British Transplant Games - it’s like going on holiday with an extended family! Philippe set his sights on the 50m run and he won a gold medal, and placing first in his age category. He also took part in the long jump, obstacle course and ball throw. We couldn’t be prouder!”

Grainne Walsh, transplant advanced nurse practitioner at Evelina London and team manager, said: “I’d like to wish a massive congratulations to Philippe for doing so brilliantly at the British Transplant Games. He’s overcome a lot at such a young age, and it’s great to see how well he is doing now.

“The British Transplant Games has a huge place in the hearts of all the Evelina London staff and volunteers who attend each year. Being able to see the children and young people compete and forget about their condition for just a few days is a privilege. It is also such a special event for their families and I’d like to say a huge thank you to Evelina London Children’s Charity and those who support the games each year.”

The Evelina London kidney transplant service is the country’s first established children’s kidney programme, pioneering children’s transplantation in 1968. 

Patients in need of organ transplants rely on people being willing to donate their organs after death or donating a kidney or part of their liver as living donors.

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