When England Rugby announced in May that Northampton hooker Samson Ma’asi had been withdrawn from the Red Rose U20s squad preparing for the Junior World Championships in Argentina due to a ‘medical condition’, little did anyone expect what followed.
What at first appeared to be a toe problem turned out to be something far more serious – a life-changing kidney issue that led to his father, former Tonga, Cornish Pirates, Leeds, London Welsh and Ampthill hooker Vili, donating an organ to transform his son’s life.
Six months on, Samson, 19, and Vili are happily on the road to full recovery, so much so that Samson hopes to resume his career at Saints, to whom Vili says he will be eternally grateful for the support his family has received during a period of substantial hardship.
Vili, 44, told The Rugby Paper: “It was back in May when Samson had a swollen toe which was initially suspected of being gout, but the GP thought he was too young to have that and the level was quite high, so he referred him to Northampton Hospital.
“After conducting various tests, they worked out that his kidneys were operating at 20 per cent and were failing, so you can imagine that came as a huge shock to the family. You can live with one kidney but the only option in Samson’s case was a transplant.
“When you play rugby you expect injuries, but for a healthy young man to have that happen was massive and it’s meant a lot of changes. His diet changed and he went through treatment to maintain the kidney level while they looked for a donor.”
In the case of the Ma’asis, help could not have been closer at hand. Vili explains: “I knew there’d be a chance I might be a match and wanted to step in. I then had to go through six weeks of tests before the operation to ensure my kidney was healthy enough for him.
“It needed to be functioning well and my blood had to be clean and clear to ensure I didn’t pass anything bad on to Samson, but thankfully both my kidneys were really healthy and we were able to proceed with the transplant operation three weeks ago.”
With both men well on the road to adapting to their new situation, Vili is already back coaching at Peterborough RFC while Samson hopes to one day resume his fledgling career at Northampton and fulfil the potential that earned him U20s recognition.
Vili adds: “Fingers crossed, everything’s going in the right direction. Samson’s health is the main thing and we’ve been having appointments three times a week to ensure our kidneys are functioning well. He’s dealing with it very well.
“From straight after the operation you could see the change. I’m just happy to see him smiling and happy again, although even right up until the operation he was still training and could carry on with his fitness work.
“He even did pre-season with Saints, which helped him deal with the situation because mentally it was better for him to be around the other players. North-ampton have been very supportive from day one and I appreciate the help they’ve given us.
“If everything goes to plan, he wants to get back into playing. He’s got a chance but it’s his health which is the important thing. He understands that and for now it’s day by day, little step by step and in a few months we’ll see what the situation is.”
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