FEBUARY 2019: In May last year, Paul Saker, who has trained with RunBrighton for several seasons, underwent a major operation, giving up a kidney to donate to his wife, Dee.
This Sunday, he’s running the Brighton Half Marathon.
Paul, what was the background to Dee’s condition, necessitating a kidney transplant?
Unfortunately, Dee suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and the drugs that she was prescribed for that caused renal failure. Prior to the transplant she was on haemodialysis at home, supported by the amazing team at the Royal County Hospital.
The odds of you being a suitable match must have been pretty slim? How easy was it to come to the decision to donate one of your own?
We weren’t actually a direct match but the NHS run something called the Kidney Sharing Scheme. It matches up people with living donors who don’t have a compatible blood type with other people in the same situation. So, my kidney didn’t actually go to Dee, it went to someone three hours away and their donor’s kidney travelled in the opposite direction. It is an amazing scheme and something I wasn’t aware of before going through the donation process. I had assumed I wouldn’t be able to donate, based on our blood types.
It obviously wasn’t the easiest decision to make but, when I read into it and spoke to a couple of living donors, I found the risks to me were very low. When I compared that to how much it would help Dee, especially in getting her off the dialysis machine, then it was really a simple decision to make. If she had waited for a deceased donor, it could have taken up to seven years, which is why I would encourage everyone to sign up to the Organ Donation register.
How is she now?
She’s doing really well. She still has to go to Guys for regular checks, but they get less and less frequent as they are more confident that she isn’t going to have any adverse effects. She is on immuno-suppressants though so, every time I get even a slight cold, she gives me a wide berth, and quite rightly so!
And how about your own fitness? How long were you off running, post-op?
I was able to get back to walking relatively quickly but, as it was significant abdominal surgery, it took a while to get back to anything more strenuous. I started to cycle a bit during August and started running again in September, and I was quite surprised at how quickly I recovered my fitness. I think all the training I did for last year’s marathon put me in really good stead. I had entered the Bright10 before the op so, when it came around in October, I wasn’t sure how it would go. Not only did it go well, I actually managed to get a PB, which was quite a surprise.
How did you get into running in the first place?
I used to be very overweight and it got to the point where I really needed to make a change, so I started to go to the gym. The company I work for then sponsored a half marathon in Birmingham and, despite hardly running at all, I entered to give myself something to aim for. From getting out of breath going up the stairs to running 13.1 miles was a huge thing for me, and it has just gone on from there.
What have you enjoyed about RunBrighton and how do you think it has helped you most?
Running with a group of people with the same goals has been great and everyone in each group really supports each other, which is definitely required when we hit some of the big hills! The training plans and advice are really good as well; it has made such a difference to my running. And I have to give a shout out to the ambassadors – they are brilliant, every single week.
I am also relatively new to the Brighton area, so it has also introduced me to some places I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Often, when we are running, I make a mental note to come back with my dogs.
What has been the highlight of your running so far?
There have been so many, it is hard to pick one. Running my first half felt like such an amazing achievement given where I had started. The Great North Run was brilliant as there were just so many people – the queue for the start line was a kilometre long.
But I would have to say the highlight was the Brighton Half five years ago, as Dee came to watch me run that day as a friend, our relationship really started properly that day and we have now been married for two and a half years. It also happens to be Dee’s birthday this Sunday!
It sounds like the Brighton Half was a huge success then! What’s your main objective, running it this Sunday? Are you aiming for a particular finish time?
My main objective is always just to enjoy the day and do my best, but I would also like to get under two hours and run a personal best. As long as I stick with Steve and Daz, the 2-hour pacers, I think it should be possible – they really keep you motivated when it gets tough.
I understand you’re raising money for Kidney Research UK. What can you tell us about that and how can people contribute?
Kidney Research UK aims to improve the quality of life of those living with kidney disease and ultimately want to eradicate this silent killer. Until I got involved with them, I didn’t realise that over 3 million people in the UK suffer from kidney disease, so it is a lot more common than you think.
I have a JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/account/your-pages/Paul-Saker9 or you can donate directly or get more information at https://www.kidneyresearchuk.org.
And after the Half, do you have other running goals later in the year?
I am not doing the marathon this year, but I will keep running on a Sunday with RunBrighton for as long as I can. I will be doing the Mid Sussex Marathon weekend in May and then I will be getting my bike out – I have signed up for the London-to-Brighton and Ride London races over the summer, so I won’t be running as much, but I will still be fundraising for Kidney Research UK.
Based on your own race experiences, what tips would you have for anyone taking on their first half-marathon this Sunday?
Don’t go out too fast! Pick a pacer and stick with them – if you are feeling good, half way round, then you can step it up. And don’t worry about the time – just getting to the start line is an amazing achievement.
Paul, best of luck on Sunday. Happy Birthday to Dee. And hopefully you’ll get lots of support for Kidney Research UK.
Thanks Mike, and thanks to everyone involved in RunBrighton.
By Mike Bannister