Lung transplant saved dad’s life.. now he’s doing The Bupa Great Edinburgh 10mile Run in memory of his donor
DEREK Riley from Dumfries has forged a close relationship with the family of his donor and says he’ll take part in the 10-mile run in his memory and also for a transplant patient friend who never made it.
DEREK Riley was hooked up to oxygen every minute of the day and just raising a fork to his mouth or trying to brush his teeth made him breathless.
He knew time was running out and, if he didn’t have a lung transplant, he’d be dead within months.
He’d coughed every day for 30 years and struggled to breathe after suffering pneumonia when he was 15, which triggered a condition called Young’s syndrome, with symptoms similar to cystic fibrosis.
But he’s been given back his life after a successful transplant and is running 10 miles in The Bupa Great Edinburgh Run.
And he has also competed in numerous Transplant Games.
Derek, 61, from Dumfries, an assistant manager at TMS Motor Spares, will be running in memory of the donor who saved his life and a transplant patient friend who sadly didn’t make it.
He has been married to Sheilah, 60, for almost 38 years and the couple have two children, Joanne, 32, and Michael, 28.
Derek forged a strong bond with the family of his donor, Jimmy, and met them while taking part in the European Transplant Games in Dublin in 2004.
“His mum came to watch me play badminton,” he said.
“We stood and hugged each other, then we sat down and talked as though we’d known each other all our lives. It was the most special day in my life.
“She told me the family knew that Jimmy would’ve wanted to be a donor.
“He’d had a cornea transplant several years before he died so he’d benefited from a donor himself. They told doctors to use what they could.
“I got his lungs and others received his heart, two kidneys and liver – so five of us received organs and I believe he donated tissue, too.
“He saved at least five lives including mine. I would have been dead within four or five months if I hadn’t had that transplant.
“Since then I’ve been in Transplant Games in this country and been to Austria, Dublin, Italy and Sweden to compete. I’ve done cycling, swimming, volleyball, badminton and running.
“I’ve won gold, silver and bronze medals in different things.
“But the whole thing is to promote organ donation and to show that people who have transplants live a full and active life afterwards.
“My donor’s mum has now passed away and one of his sisters but I’m still in touch with another sister.
“I think his mum found comfort in meeting me. She was very proud of her son and proud of me.”
Derek, hooked up to oxygen, with brother-in-law Eric
He added: “I talk to my donor quite regularly, especially when I’m doing something.
“When I go on this run, I’ll be having a quiet talk to him before I start, just asking him to help me along the way. I feel he’ll be watching me.”
Derek feels he’s been given a second chance of life through his transplant but is aware others aren’t so lucky.
“I’ve done so much – all these sporting things – and I’ve seen my son get married and my 18-month-old granddaughter come along.
“I wouldn’t have seen her without the transplant.”
His friend Gerard Falsey, from Hamilton, had a lung transplant in 2011 due to a condition he’d had from birth.
But he suffered pneumonia, which caused damage and led to his body rejecting the lung and he died last December when he was just 32.
Derek said: “He was a real inspiration and thinking about him gets me out the door on a wet night to get running. You’ve got to be grateful for every day, as it’s not long for everyone. Gerard was a member of the Live Life then Give Life organisation who promote organ donation.
“I’ve become a member too, so I’m running for them and also raising money for Diabetes UK, as they’re one of the main charities of the event.”
Derek was 45 when he was told in June 1998 that a transplant was his only option.
He said: “My breathing was that bad I couldn’t hold a conversation.
“I was breathless eating a meal or brushing my teeth – all the things you do without thinking were hard to do.”
He went on the transplant list in December 1998, then in June 1999 he was taken from his then home in Carlisle to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle for surgery.
But it didn’t go ahead as the prospective lungs weren’t in good enough condition.
“It was crushing. But I realised that all that time, you’re waiting for someone to die to save your life.
“I used to pray regularly that my donor would be ready when he was ready and that he achieved his ambitions and be at peace with his family and friends.”
The call came in October 1999 to say there was a possible donor.
This time it went ahead and, after seven hours of surgery, Derek woke up the following morning and was taken off a ventilator.
He found he could breathe unaided by oxygen for the first time in about 11 months. He said: “I will always be grateful to the wonderful medical team at the Freeman Hospital. Without them I wouldn’t be here today.”
At first he was told only that his donor had been a 43-year-old man in the Midlands who had died of a brain tumour.
Two weeks after the transplant, Derek wrote anonymously to the man’s family.
“I wrote just to say ‘Thank you’ and to tell them about my family and what they’d given me back.”
He received a letter back the following March via the transplant co-ordinator, telling him about his donor, Jimmy.
“And after my transplant when I got in touch with the family, I told them about my prayer for my donor.
“His sister told me that a year before he died, her brother had done a backpacking tour he’d always wanted to do and he’d started his own business, which was one of his ambitions.
“I feel he came along when he’d done what he wanted to do and when I needed him. I think about him every day and I’ll always be grateful to him and his family for the new life they’ve given me.”
The Bupa Great Edinburgh Run is on Sunday, April 27, and will cover a 10-mile distance for the first time.
Runners will pass through some of Edinburgh’s best-known streets and pass landmarks, including the castle.