When Miles Florentine, from Preston, was diagnosed with kidney failure thousands of miles away from home, his dreams of becoming an outdoor instructor faded sharply.
However his passion for learning wasn’t diminished and now, thanks to a grant of £350 from Kidney Care UK, he has graduated with a First Class Master’s degree in Volcanology and Geological Hazards at Lancaster University.
Miles’ story began two-and-a-half years ago in Australia when he began feeling ill but, ignoring the symptoms of extreme tiredness and stabbing pains, he continued working as a barista as he enjoyed his travels.
It was only when the 26-year-old collapsed at work and was rushed to the emergency department did he realise that there was something serious happening to his body.
The doctors in Australia battled to save his life, his mother was called to travel from the family home in Preston and the situation looked grim.
Following an intense barrage of tests Miles was diagnosed with Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis, a rare disease that is characterised by inflammation in various tissues including the kidneys.
Miles explains: “Basically my body was attacking itself and I had internal bleeding including in my lungs. If I hadn’t got to hospital I would have been dead within 48 hours.”
Miles remained in Australia for another three months in and out of hospital and as a result of his condition, his kidneys began to fail quickly so that by the time he returned home, the doctors told him that kidney dialysis was the only way to keep him alive.
At the age of 24, Miles was miraculously alive but his life had changed forever.
Miles adds: “I felt completely helpless when dialysis was mentioned. I thought it was the end and I couldn’t see a future. I had always wanted to be a mountain guide. My passion was for the outdoors, mountain biking, hiking, running. I love navigation and challenging my body but when I was diagnosed with kidney failure it felt like multiple nails in my coffin. I knew I wouldn’t be able to follow my dreams as I was so tired and weak.”
Miles was determined not to give up though, making the decision that even if he couldn’t use his body he was going to use his mind, so he signed up to study at Lancaster University, starting in September 2017.
As part of his studies, he needed to research and write. But his condition meant the travel to and from the library to use the computers was exhausting so he knew he needed a laptop, even though money was extremely tight.
This is when he turned to charity Kidney Care UK, an organisation which provides emotional, practical and financial support for kidney patients across the UK.
The grant Miles received allowed him to study at home, pouring his energy into completing his course.
He continues: “I was really unwell almost continuously throughout my Master’s degree, with high levels of potassium in my blood, nightly peritoneal dialysis and constant sickness but I persevered and the laptop was a complete lifeline for me.
“There were some days when I had to leave lectures to be sick and I was devastated to have to miss the volcanology trip to Mount Etna as I became seriously unwell just as I was about to leave.
“However there were some bright moments too such as meeting my girlfriend Megan Tomlinson, even though I hid from her my condition as I didn’t want her to see me as weak.”
Megan adds: “I can’t believe Miles hid his kidney disease and dialysis from me. One day he even hid a huge delivery of equipment and liquid as it was being unloaded at his parent’s house. I was upstairs and didn’t realise there were 100 boxes being carried through the house. To me, Miles is perfect and he’s even more amazing than I initially thought and we laugh now about his reluctance to admit what was happening within his body when we first met.”
Graduating with a first class Master’s degree in December 2018 was the culmination of a year of immense hard work, grit and determination and Miles is grateful to the charity for allowing him to complete his studies.
After he graduated he wrote to thank Kidney Care UK, saying: “Being able to complete my Master’s degree has made a huge difference to my life and future career prospects.
“The gift of this laptop was much more than just a means of research, it has allowed me to prove to myself and everyone else that having a serious health condition, and even being on dialysis, need not be an obstacle.
“With the right combination of ambition and support, you can still achieve anything you set out to do.”
Paul Bristow, acting chief executive of Kidney Care UK, says: “Being diagnosed with kidney disease at the exact time where you expect to be living your life to the full must have come as a huge shock to Miles. It’s inspiring to see how he shifted his mind-set and looked at ways he could continue to make a difference; we’re delighted that we were able to play a small part in his successes. It’s fantastic to hear how a reasonably small amount and a relatively small purchase was able to have such a significant impact and we’re excited to hear how Miles gets on now he has graduated.”