As Brayley and Dhyreille Lomu tear around the house, squealing with delight as they alternate harassing the dog with playing catch, dad Jonah smiles proudly.
He isn’t running around with them – he looks exhausted, having lost 6.5kg in the past five weeks. And despite Auckland’s mild temperatures, the former All Black just can’t get warm.
But the adoration in his eyes as he watches his happy boys, Brayley (4) and two-year-old Dhyreille, is unmistakable.
“Without these two rugrats we wouldn’t be where we are. They are both little firecrackers. I thank God for them every day,” says Jonah.
The 38-year-old suffered kidney failure in 2004, and was told in February 2012 he will need a second operation to replace the original kidney donated by ZM DJ Grant Kereama. He has dialysis six hours a day, four days a week.
“The past two years have been hell. Living 24 hours a day, every day with this condition, there have been days when I’ve just wanted it all to stop, days I didn’t want to live any more.”
“There are still times I choke, that I don’t feel like I can do this,” he says. “So to have the boys and Nadene, my family has saved me. Without them, I simply wouldn’t be here.”
Jonah and Nadene’s boys are happy, chatty kids, who have never known their dad to be anything but sick, and both boys watch movies or read books with Jonah while he has dialysis.
Brayley especially seems to instinctively understand if his dad is tired, and snuggles up on his dad’s knee to give him a cuddle. Dhyreille is the spitting image of Jonah, both in looks and personality, and already has a strong sense of style.
“He’ll have changed clothes five times by lunchtime,” says Jonah, quickly adding, “that side he gets from his mum!”
Watching the family play happily together, it’s easy to see the strong bond that binds this resilient little unit. But for the Lomus, life is far from easy.
Jonah has chosen to be open about his battle with depression, writing a chapter on it in his book, Jonah: My Story.
“The thing with doing dialysis is that there’s no escape, but the more you let the illness take over, the worse off you become,” explains Jonah.
He now has a machine at home, but is determined to keep things as normal as possible – by the end of this year, he will have travelled to 12 countries in 12 months.
“You don’t get a day off, you don’t get a reprieve. I have to do the dialysis or I feel awful – after I have it, my body feels clean, like it’s been fixed. If I miss a dialysis, I feel really ill.”
While Jonah’s illness has clearly had a huge effect on him, mentally as well as physically, if anything it’s made the family a stronger team than ever.
The quieter of the pair, Nadene is constantly on watch for her “boys” – she’s there with toys for the kids and a sandwich for Jonah.
“I know people say mums need time to themselves – and I agree, they do – but I know my boys really do need me,” says Nadene (35).
She juggles looking after the boys full time with running Jonah’s professional life, who as well as being a rugby and football ambassador, is also a public speaker and mentor – not to mention ambassador for several charities, including Kidney Kids and Unicef.
“I don’t do stuff for myself,” Nadene adds. “I’m religious and my faith is enough to get me through. We aren’t a normal family – with Jonah’s illness and all the travelling we do, our circumstances are far from normal. For me, it’s enough
I still have Jonah here and the boys still have their dad.”
And all three of her boys clearly adore her.
“It’s no secret I was married twice before. I was blessed to have had previous relationships with people who meant a lot to me at those times,” says Jonah.
“They were good for me, but Nadene is perfect. She is everything I’ve ever needed and more. She’s an amazing mum to the boys and is a great mender of the heart. Look at what she did with me and dad” – referring to 2008 when, pregnant with Brayley, Nadene was key in reconciling Jonahwith his father Semisi, who died in June this year.
While Jonah is doing his best to stay strong, refusing to cut back on his commitments, the truth is he’s unlikely to get well again, unless he manages to find a second kidney donor.
It’s possible, but extremely difficult, as his body is much more likely to reject a second transplant than a first.
“My goal is to make it to the boys’ 21sts,” he says. “There are no guarantees that will happen, but it’s my focus.”
There’s no doubt Jonah relies on Nadene, but the connection between the pair is deeper.
“We are so in tune with each other, it’s quite scary – it’s at the point we don’t even need to use words. She just knows if I need a drink, or if I need my pillows adjusting when I’m sick. She does what’s needed without me saying a word,” explains Jonah.
“I’ve been to hell and back with this illness, and Nadene has carried me through every step of the way. I can’t agree with the saying that behind every great man is a great woman, because Nadene isn’t behind me. My wife is right beside me.”
But for Nadene, it’s what she does. “I just love him,” she says with a smile. “Just seeing that he’s managing a bit better, to give each of my boys what they need, to make Jonah’s day a little lighter, it’s all I need.”