All the time we come across and RMAer that inspires the human heart through their story. But sometimes, the stories are so inspirational that they must be told. This story is one such story. When I heard about Ros and her sacrifice, I could not help but ask her to share with us. Her strength and her resilience in the face of such a hard time for her family is true testament to the amazing person that she is. Join with me in celebrating this great woman.
My name is Ros. I am 67 years old and I love to run!
It is a strange pastime to take up in your late fifties, but my weight was an issue and walking was taking up far too much time. I had never played sport when I was young because of bad eyesight. It seemed to take forever to build up distance from 100m to 5km, to 10km, to half-marathon, and then in my 65th year I tried some marathons. And a couple of ultras.
My daughter’s name is Annie. In January 2013 she moved from Adelaide to Sydney, taking up a high-profile job. For the previous 12 months she had been unwell and was treated for allergies and early menopause (she was 38), but none of the diagnoses seemed to fit. Her ‘allergies’ got worse, and then she was told she had pneumonia. At night she itched constantly, and in the mornings she was so thankful for the en-suite attached to her office – she could vomit without drawing attention. Annie stopped wearing skirts because although she was losing weight, her legs were swollen and misshapen.
But Annie, of course, was quite capable of Googling her symptoms. So she asked her GP to do kidney tests. At first he refused; she insisted; he relented. On receiving the results she was immediately admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital with kidney failure, and put on dialysis.
Dialysis did not suit her. A fistula (bridge between artery and vein) was built in her arm but because she is small it burst a couple of times during dialysis. And instead of making her feel better, the dialysis made her feel worse. She dreaded the 3 hour visits 3 times a week, and especially the walk from the hospital to work or home clutching a sick bag.
I believe just about every mother would have the same desire as I had – to donate one of my healthy kidneys. But to my sorrow, we are incompatible blood groups, so St Vincents said it was not possible. (She is B+, I am AB+) I felt a compelling urge to pursue the matter further and applied to the Royal Adelaide Hospital Renal Unit to be an altruistic donor – an anonymous donation to whoever might need it most. During one of my early visits to the RAH I had an interview with a nephrologist who amazed me by saying it might still be possible to donate to my daughter. There is a process (plasmapheresis) which filters out the recipient’s antibodies to the incompatible blood. I fell in love with the renal unit at the RAH!
At first Annie voiced some reservations about receiving my kidney. What about the age difference? Would mum’s health be compromised? And the main one – would mum be able to run afterwards?
But hey! I can Google too! And besides the information on the internet, the information and assessment appointments at the RAH answered my queries.
In some ways, my overriding desire to see my daughter have a chance at a reasonable normal life blinded me to any negative possibilities. I understood that I was undergoing invasive surgery that was not to my advantage. But I also knew that I was blessed to be healthy and fit. And although I really hoped that I would be able to run again, in reality I was turning 66, had thoroughly enjoyed my eight years of running and had some satisfying achievements; so if I couldn’t run in the future I would find another way to stay involved in the running community which I had grown to love.
After what seemed a tediously long time, the RAH were ready to do the transplant in mid February 2014. Annie was still trying to manage her job full time, but by this time she had a few weeks’ leave to come to Adelaide.
Now I was starting to appreciate the advantages of all those tests at the RAH. The operating team knew exactly what they were dealing with – that my right kidney was too inaccessible, that my left kidney had 4 arteries instead of the usual 2 or 3. Everything went according to plan and by the end of the day my daughter had a functioning kidney.
I recovered well. The surgeon cautioned me at the time and again a month later, that the main muscle across my middle (transversus abdominus) had been cut and it would take some time to heal. His scary words were ‘If you give yourself a hernia, I am happy to cut you open again’. So within a few weeks I could run slowly, and because I live in the Adelaide Hills there is plenty of opportunity for slow up-hill running. But for a couple of months I was very cautious on the downhill; also cautious lifting heavy things (I like to work in the garden) or anything that involved core strength.
There was plenty of opportunity to try up to 5km runs – I am Event Director at Mount Barker parkrun – and I tried an occasional 10km event. But my speed has dropped significantly – partly through age but also through lack of core strength.
Of course there is no blue print for recovery as every person is different, and maybe I should have asked more questions about muscle recovery. Early this year I started to go to gym classes to address the core strength issue. And in April I made the decision to at least try some distance running again to see how I go.
The month of May was so much fun. The Greenbelt is a Half-Marathon along the Torrens River track, so I entered it to see if I could run 21 kms. It felt as bad as my first-ever half marathon, but I made it! Then I went to Sydney to spend a few days with my daughter – the same weekend as the SMH Half! And she lives 800m from Hyde Park (the start and finish). Loved it! I was slow and cautious on the wet road, and my GPS lied and said it was 21.82, but it was such a buzz. One week later was the Barossa Half Marathon – a flat course, so I decided to push it a bit faster. Two hours and four minutes is ten minutes slower than I did it two years ago, but it felt so good to be doing an event with the South Australian running community again. And now I know that I can manage the Half Marathon distance.
At 67 I am one of the oldest female runners in South Australia and I know that sooner or later there will be an end to my running participation. But I also know how blessed I am, to be healthy, active, involved in such a supportive running community; and also to have given my adult daughter the best chance at maintaining her quality of life.