By Baboucarr Fallaboweh & Momodou Bah
Life is full of intriguing sub-plots, but John Bass’ tale is one of the more heartening. Little Bass was obsessed with football as a kid and showed an immediate aptitude for the beautiful game on the floor of a shabby park.
The grassless pitches in Lamin became the theatre of his first marauding runs, the ball glued to his right foot. His mother was very protective of her son and had other ideas. She tried to steer the young Bass towards formal education to help him avoid any football-related injury.
Just in time, going through the scripts and getting ready for an emotional interview, we came across a quote by renowned Basketball player Kobe Bryant:
“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.”
Within Bass, you could see that teary and reddish eye, fighting to hold his tears back as his demeanor changed.
There is much to ask; every answer leads to another question, but I began by asking what John (his first name) means.
“The name John is derived from the Hebrew word YOHANAN, meaning graced by God. it’s a solid traditional name with strength, smartness, and kindness.” He revealed to me.
John Bass was raised within two families and two environments. First with his uncle and later with his grandmother. At age 10, he was separated from his mother, who had to deal with mental health illness.
Bass’ dad’s rejection of being his father has left incredible pain in Bass’ and his mother. His mother left with pain, suffering, and regret during the 15 years she was in exile because her family rejected and abandoned her.
Separation was not new to Bass; his dad was never in his life and only resurfaced after Bass’ 30th birthday. Both parents returned to his life but had built their own families. In this lesson, Bass draws a lot of empathy for children who aren’t living with both parents.
Whenever Bass returns to the village during weekends or holidays, he, along with his cousins, carries a ball. Young boys in the vicinity became familiar with the routine and knew when Bass would arrive.
The village boys generally gather around Bass ball to juggle and rondo. However, on this very disappointing day, a passing truck ran over the ball, completely puncturing it. Bass’ was used to such disappointment. Throughout his 144 career appearances, his father only watched one game: the FA Cup final between Brikama Utd and Armed Forces.
When Bass was enjoying his newfound trade, life happened in the form of kidney disease, clipping his wings. Crippling back pain was shown to be down to a kink in one of his tubes that killed his kidneys. Then, he experienced a dramatic change in course, in destiny.
The news of Bass’ unfortunate condition dealt the West African nation a devastating blow. His story evolved from how a club, community, and country tried all means to see a footballer survive the killer disease, which required a staggering $25,000 for treatment. This was the cost he, his family, friends, teammates, and the nation had to incur as he recovered from a deadly disease that could have claimed his precious life. The beginning was exciting, and the ending was sad, but everything in between made it worth living.
Using bizarre yet purposeful digression, here’s an interesting piece of trivia: as a side job, Bass is a motivational speaker, getting to guest-speak at events across the Gambia. He draws on his arduous journey- which you will later become acquainted with- to give hope to those battling kidney-related diseases.
John Bass on the middle, left – Modou Barrow, Right- Mustapha Carayol.
“From the shores of Gambia, where I was born, to the streets of Daranka, where I grew up, It has always been a challenging life for me. As a child raised in the village years ago, farming and schooling were the order of my life. Any other thing was seen as a waste of time. My grandpa was a disciplinarian; failure to carry out your ascribed responsibility meant severe flogging. But, for me, football was the only thing worth that risk. No amount of flogging or punishment doled out to me would stop me from playing football. I loved football as a child; I knew I was born for this game. He gushed.
Despite my talent, the challenges continued. Exposure was a problem; there was no one to guide me and give me the support I needed, so I had to do everything by myself. Like every young footballer, I dreamed of becoming a professional, playing in Europe, preferably for Real Madrid, and representing my nation, The Gambia, in continental competitions. I was a believer. For those who knew me from the age of 6 to 23, you will know those dreams were not impossible considering my skill set and personality; it could have happened.
Today, though I am not here to talk about my football career, I am here to talk about the next chapter of my life: The John Bass Kidney Foundation. The idea I conceived when I fell victim to kidney failure. During my ordeal with the disease, I got inspiration by looking at all the people suffering and, in the worst-case scenario, dying due to the sickness.
It dawned on me that I had to do something to prevent others from falling victim, too. Using myself as a reference, I realized many people were oblivious to the disease. I have decided to set up this Foundation to help create awareness about the disease and how to prevent it.
Through the Foundation, I will share my knowledge with the world and try to provide as much help as possible to the people with the disease.
If I have learned anything about life during those tumultuous times, it is the fact that no man is an island and money doesn’t give you everything. If that were the case, I would have been history by now.
When I got sick, I didn’t have a quart of the money required for my treatment abroad, and even if I had the money, I would have still needed a matched and willing donor. During this period, I received overwhelming love, care, and support from friends, family, and, most amazingly, people I don’t know. People say I deserve it, but I say no; how do I deserve this? The only way I can show appreciation is not to give a cent to everyone who helped me but to replicate the same gesture to others in dire need.”
John Bass was born in Lamin; he started playing football on the streets like many other children in the Gambia and started learning rope in Lamin before joining First Division side Ports Authority and Brikama United, respectively. He played for Daranka United, Jattas FC, and the Lamin Zonal team and went on in Lamin’s third and second-division teams. John had the privilege of joining born and raised Lamin stars like Lamin Colley, Hamang Conteh, Omar Colley, Ngine Faye, Sainey Njie, and Adama Jarju to play for the national team.
John Bass, who was always ready to learn, attracted the love of the coaches when his Daranka United reached the Semi-final of the Lamin nawettan, they didn’t claim the title, but he was adjudged the Most Outstanding Player of the Nawettan. That group had the discipline to the core as they also won the most disciplined team, a trait visible in Bass’s playing career as attested by Coaches Alagie Sarr, Tapha Manneh, and Saul Kuyateh.
He spent four seasons at Ports Authority; his first match was against Jaaraf (Senegal) in a CAF Confederation preliminary rounds match. He would later replace an injured Yafaye Jadama to play in the two-legged affair. “Memories that you can hardly forget about them. It was a transformation in my career, from the second division to a title-winning club. It was a milestone achievement for me. I needed to deliver.” John mentioned
He later returned home to Lamin after parting ways with the Ferry boys. He played Nawettan, then Zonals, and Armed Forces and Gamtel followed in 2014. After some consultations, he joined Brikama United.
“I had a good time in Ports, said Bass as he recalled his first days with the Sateba boys. “I was warmly and nicely welcome to Brikama United. He took that advantage to work harder to repay the fan’s faith. The coaches were beneficial. If you look at the team’s core, we were the senior players. Fans were special. It was a very serene environment”.
Their success came when they won the FA Cup against Bombada United. Bombada were city rivals; the atmosphere was electric, John Bass recalled. “I gave it my all on that game.” The following final was against the Armed Forces, and they lost. It was terrible. He can’t remember when he last shed a tear after losing a game as much as he did on that fateful day.
Bass was diagnosed with renal failure during the league, and the club stood by him with maximum support. Footballers often face life-changing situations in cancer battles, depression, suicide, and car accidents, but Bass’s is unique.
“When they got to know my condition, it affected mentally of my teammates. They were emotionally down, especially the younger players because I was their inspiration.” it took them two weeks to recover from that trauma. Bass was a leader throughout his career, and his absence was felt on and off the pitch.
John Bass’s second chance of life is something I describe as a victory. I sat with John on August 6th, 2019; I never heard of the disease, and the purpose of the meeting was to plan the launch of the Foundation, put in place a media strategy, and identify companies to engage. I have never been prouder than the day the John Bass Foundation was launched. As an Ambassador, I want the priority given to HIV, Aids, Breast Cancer, Maternal death, and others to be given to Kidney patients. He is a true inspiration for how to turn life contrast into career, development, support, and change. His determination, discipline, and engagement are adorable. He is a role model. If you are close to footballers, you would know injuries are challenging.
Many Gambian footballers struggle to resurrect their careers after sustaining injuries in our local leagues. The Gambia gained independence in 1965; Yaya Jammeh commissioned some hospitals, but most of these hospitals, especially the main hospital, lack the sophisticated and the needed technology to cure most diseases that bedevil the populace. Most patients visit the Senegalese capital, Dakar, for scanning and treatment, which is relatively expensive. If things are complicated, they travel to countries like Turkey, the USA, and the UK for medical treatment. The diaspora has contributed a lot to the health sector in the last seven years through filing for their relatives, crowdfunding through GoFundMe to enable them to send patients abroad for treatment, or even by sending medicines to the Gambian community. Even though the national league is not considered a professional league, access to medication and therapy should be accessible to sportsmen and women of this country.
I am John Bass, and this is my Story
So many people have written stories about John Bass, but nobody saw the emotions, battles, and words of hope as Momodou Bah looked on as John narrated his story.
Locally based players find breaking into their senior national team setup challenging due to the high number of foreign-based footballers. However, for Gambia’s John Bass, a sudden kidney problem scuppered his dream of being a vital member of the Scorpions.
“Weeks before our 2019 AFCON qualifier against Benin (November 2018), I realized some changes in my body that were quite unusual. So, I decided to go for a medical checkup where I was diagnosed and told both my kidneys had failed, said Bass.
The versatile, left-footed defender was one of the few locally based players called up for the Scorpions 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations qualifying campaign but never had the chance to play after receiving the devastating news that his kidneys had failed.
“The news was shocking, looking at how prepared I was for that game, and the news just came in and abruptly ended everything.” The 27-year-old former Brikama United defender was vying for a place in Coach Tom Saintfiet’s squad before he too ill.
“I had to go to the hospital to see a Nephrologist and then find out how best I could help myself recalled Bass.
“Upon arrival at the hospital, doctors told me I was supposed to start dialysis immediately. That was when I knew everything had crumbled – it was devastating.
“Everybody was shocked because it was something no one expected, and many expected me to move to the sport’s highest echelons because everything was moving smoothly and fast for me.”
After going through dialysis at Gambia’s Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, the former Gambia Ports Authority man was sent to India, where he had a successful transplant.
He was a member of the local scorpions’ unsuccessful 2018 CHAN qualifying campaign before receiving his debut senior national team call-up in March 2017.
Former Gambia goalkeeper and coach Sang John Ndong included him in his squad for a ten-day camp in Rabat, Morocco.
The Scorpions played two friendly matches during their stay in the Moroccan capital; Bass looked on from the bench as captain Pa Modou Jagne marshaled the left full-back slot.
“It was a dream come true – when the call came in. I knew it was deserving because I was working hard for it. It was an amazing moment, and those memories will forever live with me.”
He would also make Sang Ndong’s squad for their opening 2019 Total Africa Cup of Nations qualifier away to Benin in June 2017; however, the Gambia narrowly lost to a Stéphane Sessegnon goal.
“I believed if I were given the chance, I would have given my best because I was called on merit, Bass emphasized.
Football has been my passion, and I love it. I prepared myself for the task because it was a national duty”. With the new reality, Bass knew he had something more important to deal with his well-being.
“When I was diagnosed and started dialysis, I realized this was a new chapter in my life. I had put football aside for a while and concentrated on my health because it was the most important thing. Transitioning from football to treatment is always challenging, and Bass was no exception.
“Moving from football to treatment was challenging – sometimes I wake up in the morning thinking it’s time for training, but my instinct would jolt me out of that thought and remind me of the hospital. I got used to it with time.
Football forms a big part of my life – it is my passion, and it is more comprehensive than people might think – it is not only about kicking the ball. I will always be part of football because if you can’t kick, you can manage, coach, or do others. When I returned from my transplant, I was still recovering, but I watched my teammates play in the league because that gave me joy as they were representing me”.
Since his transplant in India, John has actively raised awareness about Kidney disorders and advocated for its patients through his John Bass Kidney Foundation, launched last year.
“We have only one dialysis ward in the Gambia, which is ill-equipped, so I decided to develop the John Bass Kidney Foundation to raise awareness among the people so that we would have fewer cases in the future. Kidney disease in the Gambia is proliferating. When I returned from my treatment overseas, the number of patients with kidney disorders had doubled, said Bass. I knew it was no longer about me alone – I had concerns for the next person who might fall victim. It’s better to raise awareness so people can care for themselves and know the risks of preventing these deadly diseases.
“I feel amazing. Looking back and knowing what I have been through – I’m just grateful to be healthy and living out my dream. To all my fellow warriors who wake up every day, put on a brave face, and battle chronic kidney disease, I would like to say our efforts are not in vain. It’s time to stand up and make a change. We can change how kidney disease is perceived in our little circles. Talk about it, open up, and educate everyone about this condition. To the doctors and nurses, we thank you for advocating and being the voice of the voiceless. Sometimes, it’s hard to speak because the stigma and ignorance surrounding our condition discourage us and make us keep quiet, but you educate us, empowering us through understanding. To our caregivers, our number one fans, we say thank you! Words cannot describe how much you mean to us, but saying we love you is an excellent place to start. Leave a mark. Be remembered. Whatever you do – everything you do should be geared at making your world a better place. Excellence is a debt we owe, and we must not pass through this life without paying our way. Your gifts, skills, knowledge, strength, and abilities are not yours to keep but yours to share. Let your deeds and your work be a legacy that lasts long after you have departed. That is true greatness.
My hope in sharing my story is that more hearts will be stirred to donate. The need is out there. Would you consider it if you could change someone’s life, even if it causes some pain and discomfort for a few months?”
An ode to Vincent
On launching the John Bass Kidney Foundation, John Bass Snr said: “Vincent, my family, and I cannot thank you enough. You are lovely, and your position will serve as an eye-opener to those skeptical about kidney donation in the Gambia.
On this day, we celebrate the gift of Vincent for giving us back our John, who has so much to live for and share.
Vincent is John’s cousin, and they grew up together. Many cousins and brothers came for blood donation one day, and Vincent was a match. Vincent made just a few of the sacrifices to see his brother back to life. When he was due to report to new work, he left for Senegal before proceeding to India. In Senegal, he spent eight hours in police custody because he disagreed with the Uber driver.
Vincent’s devotion is also questioned first by his new employer, who has never seen such a selfless soul, and their escort, Salima Jah; Salima asks if Vincent won’t back out halfway. He had to be asked by medical chiefs and many doctors if he wanted to be a donor.
It was one thing that Vincent had always wanted to see John do after the painful dialysis he (John) underwent in Banjul, for John to return to his everyday life.
The most problematic day was when John continuously vomited and had a stomach bug. He was frail and couldn’t do anything. I first had to calm down my aunt and my late mother. When I went inside my house, I wept. The only thought that came to mind was it was all over for John. He asked for a car, and once we reached the hospital, they said he was dehydrated, and we stayed there till around 4 a.m. with the driver.” Vincent recalled.
We were to be admitted in the evening during the surgery but went early; we were in separate rooms and wouldn’t see each other. I asked where John was. I was told I would see John when all this was done. I first saw him in the ICU room, waved at him thrice, and for the third time, he saw me and nodded back that he was okay. That’s when I felt relieved. We were ready; excited, we prayed and went inside. We came early to show how determined we were,” He added.
Organ donations are complex; sometimes, convincing family members or anybody involved is difficult. The main factor is fear; this is highlighted by the fact that they will ask you questions like: if I donate one kidney, what happens to me? What would I do if my single kidney had a problem, too? That’s the questions I encounter. Fear is all over them.
Role of the Gambia Football Federation
“They took up the challenge, and Simon broke the news on social media. It was a challenging complaint, and he tasked the federation. This went viral, and radio stations picked up the story. They tried to connect links and see where to rake in funds; Kaba (the President) used to visit every two days alongside Lang Tombang; they were even supporting financially. You would be connected to a machine for about four hours, and after those four hours, you would be hungry and exhausted. They played a huge part in communicating with the Ministry of Health and Interior to ensure they pushed my overseas treatment. That is why I only spent four months on dialysis. “Playing with the national team comes with prestige, something that I agree with; it played a crucial role for people to come to my aid.”
“The foreign ministry in India took up my case if it was theirs; when we arrived, I didn’t suffer like other patients. The embassy played a vital role.”
“Salima, I never knew who she was; I first saw her in 2016. The day I got sick, the news went viral; she contacted the head coach (Modou Lamin Nyassi) and went to Banjul to visit Bass. She stayed there; I was living in Manjai and escorted me there. She took his contact and the third day she came, after that, she used to go after every other two days. Salima is a fantastic woman who contributed morally and physically and made her presence felt. “Bass revealed.
“Brikama Utd organized a charity game with Casa Sports when they came to town; I played a big part in Brikama Utd in the 2015-2016 season. They felt something was missing and that something would make them restless.”
“Lamin, my town, when they heard the news, Yaya Manneh mobilized the people and ensured they raised an amount that truly helped. It was an emotional journey, to tell you. Daranka, Kerewan all followed suit. I thank God for these people. Their support has neutralized the pain; it leads to a remarkable recovery. “A friend from Germany named Ahmed Jaw said John cannot live on dialysis, and he agreed to donate his kidney.
“My story would have been the same regarding how they (clubs) handle their players. When a player has a minor injury, they will tell you to go to the hospital for treatment, then bring us the receipt. Some clubs will give you your medical to go with you; they don’t follow up even if the coach does; it’s only a mere call. Injuries such as major knee, ligament, and ankle injuries, people sit out and retire from the game. The federation should look into that. It also affects the league if the best players lose their careers to injuries. It will put a setback to our football. Clubs should work with insurance companies and advocate for health assurances for players. It seems clubs are only after their interest.”
Life after Transplant
When I got sick, I hoped to return to the field and play football continually. After the surgery, the desire was still there. I asked the doctor, and he answered in the affirmative, saying that some things must be adjusted. (Wait till you fully recover). During the first six months, I should not do anything disturbing/ lift anything weighty. I leaned on the doctor’s instructions in my daily routine to facilitate a speedy recovery. I added another four months to continue the rescue when the six months elapsed.” Bass stated.
Right after the transplant, John was using eight (8) medicines. All those medicines were to facilitate his recovery, which was supposed to last six months.
The medicines were unavailable in the Gambia, meaning he used to order them from India, costing ($300). These were drugs that he had to take daily and on time. After a while, the drug cost was reduced to $200. As such, he had to spend $200 every three months.
After ten months, I came back to ask the doctor, and I didn’t specifically ask about football because my diet changed. It was expensive to buy food from the supermarket. He advised me to return to my regular diet before my renal failure. It was very welcoming news. I started to jog and run, and as time went on, I felt I was getting stronger by day. I began to train with the ball; I told myself I still needed time. I discontinued the ball training and focused on jogging. I felt a renewed strength; I was getting stronger and more active than before. Then I decided to ask my doctor again if I could now play. He gave me the same answer, which was to quit football. I started playing a few games here in Lamin, and in the first match, I got tired, but as time passed, I became stronger.
Mentally, I was not distracted; I was focused on playing again because of the energy I felt within me. Physically, I knew I just wanted to exercise; my body was responding, and it was an excellent experience. That’s why, for some time, I told myself, why not play again? The league was canceled, and I had to wait. Now I could play 90 effective minutes. Mentally, it encouraged me; instead of playing active football, I wanted to use the game to sensitize people. If you are diagnosed with renal failure, it’s not the end. You can still fight and win the battle and go back to what you were doing before, and even more vital.
Going through rough times shouldn’t discourage you from retiring from what you did before being diagnosed with renal failure. Mentally, it helped me a lot; even now, I find joy in it when I play. When you have kidney disease, there is a livelihood of you being on dialysis for up to five years. Sometimes, it depends because sometimes, you do have some complications. I was firm, motivated, and tried not to think about the sickness. I had people around me, too, who had me in their thoughts and prayers. It strengthened my faith.
It was the most challenging part of my life. It was like a crossroads for me, especially my children and fiancé. Before I got sick, we talked about getting married and all that.
Wedding plans were put on hold until after my transplant when the need arises to marry someone who will be close to me and take care of my kids.” Bass revealed.
I had support from the Foundation that made it much easier to execute my role as the CEO, and they made it possible to carry out our plans. Brikama Utd knew when I returned, I wouldn’t be able to play football. They appointed me, and I think it was a good thing to do personally. My family did very well by getting my kids closer to me. It was very challenging. As the acting President of the Gambia Players Association, It was tough initially; the expectation was high. I had a good team who were very supportive and the reason we have come this far as an association. I am very much grateful.” Bass recalled with nostalgia
“We should live to care and ensure we are always there for the next person. In short, we should be each other’s keeper. If everyone were to think about themselves, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. If my cousin Vincent were selfish, I would not be here today. So, it is essential to think about the next person. It is also important to stay safe and healthy because if you stay healthy, it is not only about you; someone might need you one day. Because Vincent was healthy, I am alive today. The greatest wealth is health.”
Back in the Game
Brikama United appoints John as a trainer Former Brikama United and Gambian international player John Bass has been named as Brikama United’s Female team trainer.
Bass will also get involved with the male team during their morning training sessions at the BoxBar Mini stadium as he continues his coaching career under the tutelage of Modou Lamin Nyassi (Charlie).
The Vice-Chairman of Brikama United, Lamin Debajang, gave an impressive reaction to Bass’s appointment as he believes he is an excellent addition to the team.
“We knew John didn’t start his career here, but since day one, he has been part of us as one big family. John is committed, humble, and respectful.”
When John had his kidney problem, we told ourselves, it could happen to anyone, and he is one of us. We, Brikama United, came together, mobilized resources, and helped him along the way. Despite not living in Brikama, he comes to training every day; most of the time, he is the first or second to report to training.
“The only thing we can do for him, as he cannot play football, is to let him be part of us. The experience is there, he can still deliver. We, therefore, decided that instead of going out to bring in someone, why not John? He has every quality of a leader. We didn’t hesitate to select him for that post.” Debajang added.
John is fully involved in football as he is the leader of Daranka Future Academy, Chairman of Lamin Zone at (WCRFAA), and serves as the acting President of the Gambia Football Players Association (GFPA). John Bass has been certified by the Gambia Football Federation for his National D license coaching course. He also completed a two-week program organized by DAIGO with the University of West England. The 14-night studies were focused on copywriting, business, and health.
“Right after the transplant, I was given a diet chart, which I was able to interpret. I took less salt, oil, no red meat, which was difficult for me; I was only eating eggs and chicken. Every weekend, you spend lots of money; I did cope because it was for my recovery for six months. You have to watch your diet otherwise it could have affected you; it happened to me; I compromised with my diet because I ran out of money. Recently, after two years of post-transplant, I can eat a few other things but I still have to be very careful. I cook for myself otherwise my wife cooks for me separately.
Bass has three beautiful girls. Joanna Shine Bass, the youngest, was born after the transplant. I didn’t have that complete belief that I was going to reproduce, having a male child was on my head at all times. She is fulfilled because it showed that even after the transplant, she can produce kids.” He added
John Bass, the chairman of the John Bass kidney foundation, spent most of the post-COVID-19 pandemic meeting patients’ families, guiding them through becoming a donor, intervening for transplant doctors and patient relationships, and convincing family members to throw more support to kidney patients. His last engagement last week saw him travel as far as Kanilai and Kiang.
Kidney donor orientation at Kanilai Foni District
The pandemic has hindered the Foundation’s progress because we could not continue with the health outreach effectively organized nationwide. I felt that after all this, we should have covered the grounds. We have made an impact on patients too, as some of them had the chance to go for overseas treatment, but borders were closed, so it truly dragged us back.”
It has impacted all over the world, coming to the John Bass Kidney Foundation, COVID-19 delayed us much, one of our main objectives was to raise funds, and then support patients. Patients were hugely affected because their treatment materials come from Senegal, and sometimes there were delays, which led to many being anemic. We wanted to collaborate with Gambian artists. Everything was set only for Covid-19 to rear its ugly head to scupper our dream. It was a big loss; the proceeds to have been generated from our partnership with the artists were meant for the Foundation and to support the patients. It affected us, we met a British couple that wanted to help the Foundation but once they returned to the United Kingdom, we couldn’t connect with them because they were elusive.
Until writing this story, the Foundation has held 20 different awareness programs to enlighten the masses about the dreadful kidney disease. We targeted schools, corporate institutions, football clubs, communities, radio stations, TV stations, and the disabled community.