Despite his healthy lifestyle, Ben Gaughran suffered a kidney failure. An organ donor changed everything — and he gives thanks daily, says
IT’S a thought that can strike any of us as we hit those bigger birthdays: could time be running out?
“I’m 77 since last month. ‘Genie,’ I said, ‘Lord,’ I said. ‘How many more years have I left?’ But I just carry on normally and just leave it at that,” says Dublin man Ben Gaugheran.
Ben’s ‘normal’ though, might be somebody else’s extraordinary. He’s a man, for instance, who cycled for 40 miles on Sundays when he was on dialysis for five years, before he received a life-changing transplant eight years ago.
“I was always pretty fit — always into athletics. I ran nine marathons, several half marathons, cross-country — you name it, I did it,” says the retired merchant seaman and fisherman. Not to mention the swimming, cycling, competitive badminton, and three completed triathlons that he casually throws in for good measure.
Ben’s exercise routine stood by him well when he needed the dialysis, and afterwards the transplant, but the mental focus it demands also contributed towards his positive attitude when he first fell ill.
It must have been such a shock for a non-smoker who doesn’t drink alcohol and lives so healthily to be told he had an aggressive melanoma in his mid-60s and when in hospital for treatment, was also diagnosed with kidney failure.
“I knew those guys in there would look after you and keep me alive — so they did. I just said: ‘OK then — what do you want me to do?’ I listened to them.”
He recovered from the melanoma and afterwards embarked on the dialysis. With no history of kidney failure in his family, he agrees it seemed like an unfair blow. But his attitude is to keep moving forward, and he’s grateful daily for the kidney that gave him a new lease of life.
While he would like to have kept up his normal competitive exercise routine, he was dealt another blow when he broke his achilles tendon some years back. “I was doing skip-hops and my right foot went from under me and I went down on a heap on the running track.”
While that severe injury set him back, it hasn’t stopped him in his tracks: “I still exercise every day — I keep the limbs trimmed up. I still do a bit of cycling, warm up the legs, the arms the shoulders — stretches and all that, do the hamstrings. I do a good bit of walking,” he says.
His wife Pauline is a badminton coach and has always also been “very sporty”. He met her in the early 1970s when he was looking at the Tall Ships in Dublin. “Myself and a friend of mine were on our way home and we saw these two ladies thumbing, so we said we’d pick them up — and then the bloody car broke down!” he recalls.
“So anyway I saw her then again over at the ballad singing. We hit it off and that was it then. I gave up being at sea because I saw too many people being married and away all the time for months — a quarter of the year or more — too many divorces around. We got married in ’74 — so we are 45 years married this year.”
Pauline has been by his side all the time “in sickness and in health”, he jokes, over those decades. She too would have shared the shock of his ill health and the joy of that phone call one Sunday night in May, eight years ago, when he was told to get himself quickly to Beaumont Hospital, because ‘we have a kidney for you’.
“When I got the kidney and it was suitable for me, I was over the moon. And I am very thankful to my donor — I just say ‘thanks very much’ more or less nearly every day.”
“And it’s the same with everybody that gets a kidney; people are very delighted and there is great harmony between all the people who have transplants — whether it’s the heart, lung, liver, kidney — the organs are very important. They are all so grateful to the people who give their permission to give their organs to the hospitals.”
There are approximately 550 people in Ireland awaiting life-saving heart, lung, liver kidney and pancreas transplants.
Thanks to the gift of organ donation, almost 4,000 people are enjoying extended life. Organ Donor Awareness Week, starting tomorrow, March 30, until April 6, serves as a fundraising exercise for the Irish Kidney Association.