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NZ Herald - 7 August 2004

Joeli still waiting for someone to give him a little hope


As Jonah Lomu looks forward to the prospect of a normal life after his kidney transplant, fellow Blues and All Black winger Joeli Vidiri waits for his number to come up.

Vidiri has been waiting for a compatible kidney for 18 months. Meanwhile, life revolves around five-hour sessions hooked up to a dialysis machine three times a week.

The Tongan and the Fijian, who together made up a wing attack to match any in the world, have a lot in common besides their ability to destroy opposition defences. Both saw their career cut short by nephritis, a disease which affects the kidneys' blood filters.

Lomu's decline was slower than Vidiri's, who went on dialysis almost immediately after complaining of feeling "tired and puffed up". By then his kidneys had lost about 90 per cent of their function.

At 27, Vidiri's playing career was over. He moved into a sleepout at the Rokocokos - All Black Joe Rokocoko's father is Vidiri's uncle - to be nearer dialysis.

"Joeli is where Jonah was a month ago," renal specialist Dr Johan Rosman told the Weekend Herald.

He is on a waiting list of 300 and is among the half who are ready for a transplant. But those on the list must wait for an organ donor to die whose kidney is a match, or find a matching live donor themselves.

The average wait is more than four years and some people never get a transplant. For them it is a sobering fact that dialysis patients have significantly lower life expectancy.

Wellington radio personality Grant Kereama came to Lomu's aid, donating a kidney to give the rugby star the prospect of a normal life and the chance of playing rugby again.

Vidiri is pleased for his former teammate. "Hey, if he can do it, good luck to him. I wish him all the best. I'm very happy that he's got his transplant."

As well as his two All Black tests, Vidiri scored what was a record 43 tries for the Blues, each prompting "Give Me Hope, Joeli" - an adaptation of the song Gimme Hope Joanna - to blare over Eden Park.

At 31, it is likely that Vidiri would still be playing top rugby with all its financial rewards but for his illness.

Though he says he did all right and owns his own home in Pukekohe, his earnings pale in comparison to the fortune amassed by Lomu, 29, estimated at more than $10 million in the National Business Review Rich List.

Speaking at the Manukau Superclinic, tubes diverting his blood through a dialysis machine, Vidiri was frank about his disappointment. But it's the lost rugby he speaks of, not the earnings.

"I'm still struggling," he says when asked how he came to terms with the sudden end to his career. It's still difficult to watch the All Blacks or the Blues, but he is proud of the impact of his cousin Rokocoko.

Kereama explained his decision to gift a kidney to Lomu as what mates do for each other. Vidiri could do with a mate like that, to give him hope, as he once did for Blues fans


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