(November 28th 2023) Dubbed the flying doctor, Ron Grainger set not one but two world records winning gold in the 100 and 200m at the World Transplant Games in Perth earlier this year. What is even more remarkable perhaps is that Ron was competing in the 70 -79 age category, 20 years after he received a kidney transplant. To mark this milestone Ron returned to the Vartry Renal Unit in TUH to present the Renal team with a special presentation of one of his gold medals.
Commenting on the presentation Professor George Mellotte, Consultant Nephrologist said “This is an incredibly generous gesture by Ron to the Vartry Renal Unit in TUH. The gold medal is a very visible and impressive symbol of what can be achieved by someone living with a kidney transplant. It is incredibly important to maintain a healthy lifestyle after a transplant and Ron has well and truly gone the extra mile in what he has a achieved, he is an inspiration to all of the medical team and I am sure our patients getting treatment in our Unit will be equally inspired by his achievements.”
The World record holder and kidney transplant patient worked for many years as a Consultant Urologist at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH), during which time he was also treated by the Hospital’s Nephrology team.
Ron was diagnosed with an inherited degenerative kidney disorder at the age of 32 and was aware that by his early 50s, he would develop end-stage renal failure and require renal replacement therapy, either dialysis or transplant.
Ron says, “As chronic renal failure became a reality, my fitness levels deteriorated significantly. Receiving a kidney transplant at the age of 53 changed that. Within nine weeks post-transplant, I returned to an extremely busy job as a Consultant Urologist here at TUH.”
Ron had moved to TUH from the old Meath Hospital in Dublin City. He worked in TUH for 14 years before retiring and has been answering some of our questions following his record-breaking year.
Were you always sporty?
“When at school, I was fairly sporty, playing rugby for the senior rugby team and representing the school in athletics. I was extremely slim back then weighing only 59 kg so on the rugby field so the only thing that kept me from repeated serious injury was my speed. My slow speech and slow walk belied my ability to run fast. When I left school my rugby playing days and athletics finished.
I tried to keep reasonably fit by using stairs not lifts and getting out to play golf occasionally but renal failure with associated fatigue and nausea made serious exercise challenging but not impossible and I kept working for as long as I could.”
How did your kidney transplant come about?
“Prof George Mellotte, Consultant Nephrologist and the staff back in the early 2000’s in TUH were great in keeping me as well as possible but eventually dialysis was necessary and I was placed on the Transplant list in early 2003. On November 24th 2003 I received the gift of life in the form of a successful renal transplant and words cannot adequately express the gratitude I feel to my donor and their family.”
How do you feel about the person who donated their kidney to you?
“My purpose in doing this is to highlight the success of organ transplantation and to honour my donor. If I have success in medalling at the games, so be it, but that isn’t my primary purpose in being there. Yes, I won Gold in 100 metres and 200 metres in new record times at the World Transplant Games in Perth earlier this year but as I was reminded by Mel from outpatients here in Tallaght University Hospital “The victory is just being there.”
“I never thought that I would be running reasonably fast in my mid-70s but I have a special thank you for my coach Gary Brown who got me to the point where I could run again with a programme of strength and conditioning before teaching me to run again.”
Was your medical training helpful when you were diagnosed with kidney failure?
“Being a Urologist, I had a clear understanding of my illness and its implications on my life but my knowledge didn’t interfere with my management by my wonderful skilled colleagues. I am the patient when being treated and trust those who care for me.”
Did having the illness help you better understand your own patients?
“I had witnessed my father go through the process of dealing with renal failure and successful transplantation so I suppose I always was very empathetic with my patients and their relatives, helped by my own experience.”
Has your physical fitness helped you manage your illness?
“There is no doubt that being fit has helped me deal with various periods of illness that have come my way over the past few years. I am so grateful to the wonderful Nephrology Staff in Tallaght who have looked after me so well over the past 20 years and hopefully many more to come.”
What’s your message for anyone with renal disease or awaiting a transplant?
“To those with chronic renal disease either awaiting dialysis or on dialysis or those awaiting transplant or post-transplant, I would encourage you to keep exercising and stay as fit as you can. It’s worth it.”
Ron lives in Dublin with his wife Joyce. Together they have three children and eight grandchildren.