Sione Vaiomounga, the Tongan player who was stranded in Romania, is recovering well in hospital after undergoing a kidney transplant, which came as a direct result of The Daily Telegraph covering his plight.
In December, The Telegraph reported on how Vaiomounga had suffered a kidney failure while playing professional rugby in Romania that left him dependent on dialysis support.
His visa was due to run out in March and deportation would have been an effective death sentence as Tongan hospitals do not possess the dialysis technology Vaiomounga needed to survive.
Yet thanks to the generosity of Telegraph readers and the wider rugby family more than £30,000 was raised in an appeal by the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare for Vaiomounga and his young family.
According to Dan Leo, the head of the PRPW, that funding allowed the Romanian government to extend his visa and on Tuesday Vaiomounga was told that he had been fast-tracked to receive a kidney transplant.
“Signs are that the operation was a complete success,” Leo said. “Normally, you can tell pretty quickly if the body has rejected the kidney so we are very hopeful at this moment. I have been in contact with his wife, Sala, and she said he is recovering well. Sala also sent me a message saying thank you to the Telegraph for covering our story, they have saved my husband’s life and we will be forever grateful for that.”
The PRPW had already received several offers from potential donors as a result of the story and Leo was in the process of organising a screening before doctors, led by Dr Daniel Pricop at the Dr Constantin Opris Country Hospital in Baia Mare, told him they had found a match.
The 29-year-old will need to remain in Romania to be monitored for the next year. “None of this would have been possible without the Telegraph,” Leo said.
“The media pressure made a big difference in fast-tracking him and we would not have been able to extend his visa without the fundraising. It is a miracle that they were able to find another donor who was a match without having to bring someone over. The doctors have been amazing throughout the process.”
The leftover funds will be used to move to a bigger, cleaner apartment as Vaiomounga remains susceptible to infection and the remainder put aside for the family’s long-term future.
The average kidney transplant lasts for 10-15 years. In 2015, Jonah Lomu, the All Black legend, died aged 40 while awaiting his second transplant, yet for now Leo and the rest of the PRPW members are delighted that a potentially tragic story now has a happy ending. “This will transform his and his family’s lives,” Leo said.
“The excitement on the Whatsapp group for the PRPW is buzzing. After Isireli Temo (a former Fijian prop who committed suicide) passed a couple of years ago, there was so much sadness in our community. As the PRPW, we said we have to do something. We cannot continue to send our players back in home in coffins. This shows what a difference we can all make when we pull together.”