WHEN you see lifeguard Ron Spriggs back on deck at Wingham Pool, you’d never know this time last year he was a heart transplant patient.
The past 12 months has been a rough journey for the now fighting-fit 57-year-old.
Problems with Ron’s heart first started years ago when he developed an irregular heartbeat after a virus and he developed myopathy.
In 2010 he had two valves repaired, atrial reduction and a pace maker fitted.
“It didn’t have the result they expected,” Ron said.
In December, 2011 Ron went on the transplant list to receive a new heart.
After six weeks waiting, a short time compared to some, he was called to Sydney to receive his second chance.
Ron vividly remembers the trip down to Sydney with his wife Carmen after receiving the phone call.
“It was quite calm and surreal,” he said.
He was then on the operating table for more than 10 hours.
After the transplant Ron was unconscious for 11 days and suffered renal failure. In all, he was out of action in hospital for six weeks and spent three months in Sydney to be closer to the hospital.
He is now back living in Wingham and has monthly hospital visits to monitor his progress.
“You don’t realise how sick you have been and for how long until after the transplant,” he said.
Ron set himself the goal to swim five kilometres on the anniversary of his operation, January 28.
“The week before Christmas I thought what the hell and I did it,” he said.
Ron is now back working as a casual lifeguard and has taken up the role of swim coach.
“I really enjoy it,” he said.
Ron’s face is a familiar sight around Wingham Pool. He and Carmen leased the pool in the 80s and early 90s from Wingham Municipal Council and Greater Taree City Council after the amalgamation.
“It was a great lifestyle and good fun,” he said.
He then went on to run Gloucester pool before spending more than a decade working in Sydney managing Sydney’s Dawn Fraser Baths at Balmain and Victoria Park Pool owned by Leichardt council.
While in Sydney he knocked over a masters degree in sports management, and retired in 2011.
In these years he travelled between Sydney and Wingham for work.
“It was easier than uprooting the whole family.
“It was probably the secret to a good marriage,” he laughed.
Ron said the past year has been tough for his family.
“Just being away from home puts a lot of strain on everything you do.”
Carmen was with him full time for the first three months and his children have also supported him along the way
“It’s brought us closer. It’s definitely been an experience.”
The six week wait for his new heart was much quicker than the general 18 months for most patients.
Although Ron will never know who his donor was due to strict privacy rules, he was able to express his deep appreciation to the family in a letter that was forwarded to them through the Donate Life organisation.
“I felt it was something I definitely needed to do,” he said.
Ron said he now feels obliged to give something back to the community. He gives talks to groups about his experience, spreading the important message of organ donation. He has given captivating addresses at Probus Club and one of his favourites, teenagers at Midnight Basketball in Taree.
Ron said he has met some incredible people through his transplant journey.
“There was one man who 11 days after his surgery walked two kilometres. But not everybody has an easy trot,” he added.
He has loved being back on the side of the pool, training young swimmers.
Ron said there are many things learnt from swimming that can be carried on into later life such as self discipline and doing your best. He also believes being able to accept failure and reassess, and try again, is more important than being competitive.