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Gaining gold six months after an organ transplant

Gaining gold six months after an organ transplant

Runners and event organisers Ellie and Paul Lacey share their story of a return to racing after a liver transplant

“I just wanted one bronze medal. That was the goal I secretly set myself. One bronze medal to show my donor that I was strong again, thanks to her!”


What’s the first thing you do when you’re told you’re at the top of the super urgent liver transplant list? My wife, Ellie, turned to me and asked: “Does this mean I can run in the Paralympics?” And it was that conversation that led us to the British Transplant Games, just six months after her emergency transplant.


For the past three years, running has been a big part of my life. It led me to my husband. It led me to Uganda and to the creation of Running the Rift Marathon. It didn’t lead to my liver transplant but it did lead me out the other side. The doctors told me my recovery was fast because I was a runner (and I think that’s as mental as it is physical)! It gave real meaning to those painful training sessions and dark, mid-winter runs.


Ellie and I got married last August in Slovenia. Two months later she started feeling a bit poorly but we didn’t take it too seriously – she’s so young and healthy! Two months later she was in intensive care. Time was tight and I was told she had less than 48 hours to live without a new liver. Even though she remembers very little, she smiled through it all, only stopping to talk about the Transplant Games…and food!


The op was a success and I couldn’t be more grateful to the enormous NHS team that saved my life. There’s one person who I’ll thank every moment for the rest of my life, but it’s the one person I can’t thank in person, my donor.


The gratitude Ellie and I have for her donor is a big driver in our lives, one that pushes us to live for the moment and to always put others first. It drives us to make the not-for-profit Running the Rift Marathon a success and it drove us to the Transplant Games.


The Transplant Games promotes healthy lifestyles and, predominantly, the importance of organ donation. For me it was a huge goal to reach, one I didn’t think I’d get to so so many times in those six months post op.

At first I couldn’t even walk. Then I couldn’t run and when I tried the doctors thought I’d given myself a hernia! Running came back so slowly and I was so conscious of people looking at me, overtaking me. I felt so vulnerable on busy footpaths and would wrap my arms around my stomach.


Coaching Ellie back to running wasn’t easy! She berated herself constantly, it was like she couldn’t contemplate what had happened to her and gave herself no tolerance for it.

Four months in we found a running specific physio who changed everything – just with a no nonsense conversation about what surgery entails and a few simple ab exercises. Ellie still can’t manage a sit up, but her body is starting to balance out again, and with some training in the bag, we were ready for the Games!


I just wanted one bronze medal. That was the goal I secretly set myself. One bronze medal to show my donor that I was strong again thanks to her!

The games were crazy. Everybody was SO LOVELY and after six months of feeling a bit isolated, a bit weird, I felt part of a team.

I got my bronze medal in the 3km road race. Emotional doesn’t cover it. Paul then went on to win the 5km donor run. I loved that he got to be involved, even if he did slightly trump my victory!


Haha, shush. She then went on to get two silvers and another bronze on the track. We couldn’t believe it. The 800m was her final event, she was exhausted but still beaming.


I knew Melissa, the winner of the previous races (and also such a lovely lady) was the one to beat. I also knew I couldn’t, but I managed to stick with her for the first 600m. As we passed the 200m mark I could hear my team screaming for me, I thought of my donor and that put the final burst of power in my legs. I feel like I flew the last 100m…and I won!



Ellie’s face when she crossed the line! I could see how much it meant to her, she’s struggled so much with feeling like she’s only alive because her donor isn’t. I know winning that race will help her process how much life she’s got to give.


The British Transplant Games were more important to me than I could have realised. Apparently only 3% of Brits who’ve had a transplant attend them (although I only heard that through the grapevine). If you’ve had a transplant I urge you to take part – it could lead to you representing GB at the World Games! Not to mention the friends you’ll make.


It’s clear what organ donation means to us. If you’re not on the register, please consider joining. You don’t just save ‘a life’, you save somebody. And their family too.

» More on the British Transplant Games can be found at

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