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Tallaght doctor sets record at World Transplant Games and gifts medal to hospital

 Two men stand holding a framed Ireland sports shirt with a gold medal displayed beneath it.

Ron Grainger set two world records at the World Transplant Games in Perth, Australia this year, winning gold in the 100-meter and 200-meter at the World Transplant Games in Perth. What is even more remarkable is that Ron was competing in the 70 to 79 age category, 20 years after he received a kidney transplant. To mark this milestone Ron returned to the Vartry Renal Unit in Tallaght University Hospital to present the renal team with a special gift of one of his gold medals.

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, needing either dialysis or transplant. He explains that “as chronic renal failure became a reality, my fitness levels deteriorated significantly. Receiving a kidney transplant at the age of 53 changed that. Within 9 weeks post-transplant, I returned to an extremely busy job as a Consultant Urologist here at TUH.” 

Commenting on the presentation Professor George Mellotte, TUH Consultant Nephrologist, noted that it was 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 he is also an inspiration to patients getting treatment in our unit who will be equally inspired by his achievements.”

Ron had moved to TUH from the old Meath Hospital in Dublin City. He worked in TUH for 14 years before retiring. Reflecting on his success he explains: “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 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.”

Noting how he tried to keep fit relative to his condition Ron says he 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.”

Speaking about the transplant he received Ron outlined how “Prof George Mellotte and the staff back in the early 2000s 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.”

Ron explained that his purpose in sharing his story was to “highlight the success of organ transplantation and to honour my donor. If I have success in winning medals 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, 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.”

Reflecting on his medical background Ron adds: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. 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.”

“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.”

Ron lives in Dublin with his wife Joyce. Together they have 3 children and 8 grandchildren. And his 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.”