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Image: Martin Ollman

Ben and the gift of life

Mardie Kearns

My son Ben was born in Canberra in 1977.

He was diagnosed at the age of three with Congenital Heart Block incorporating structural heart abnormalities. He was referred to Dr David Coles and we were advised that he would one day need a pacemaker and eventually a heart transplant. He spent the next 25 years with yearly check-ups. Dr Cole’s explained to us over the years that Ben should ensure that he did well at school as he would not be able to do a job that entailed physical work.

Ben knew what challenges life had for him and worked hard to ensure he could live a full and productive life whatever the outcome. He worked hard in Year 10 and was accepted into the Advanced Core Program at Erindale College in Canberra. This opportunity was the turning point for him.

Encouraged by his fellow students and teachers, he grew into a confident and passionate man with a goal. He graduated from Erindale College in 1995 with an ATAR of 99.3 and achieved scholarships that would allow him to pursue his career. Given several options, he chose a Cadetship with BHP in Wollongong and left home at the age of 17 to work and study. A few years later BHP outsourced it’s IT to CSC and he became a highly respected IT architect with them.

Ben Kearns

Ben Kearns

Ben married in 2004 and he and his wife Claire travelled and worked hard over the next few years. In 2010 his health deteriorated until he finally had a valve transplant. He never seemed to recover from this and in 2014 he again became very ill and was referred to the Heart Transplant Team at St Vincent’s in Sydney for a heart transplant. Ben spent several months in St Vincent’s and was placed on the Transplant List a couple of times but continued to struggle with his health. As a last chance, he was fitted with a Ventricular Assistance Device (VAD) in September 2014. This allowed him to build himself up to ensure the best chance of a heart transplant. In October 2014 he went home and over the next few months grew stronger until in March 2015 he was placed on the transplant list once more.

Ben enjoyed those months after so long in hospital and was looking forward to the rest of his life. On the 22 March 2015, we received a call from Claire wife to say he had suffered a stroke and they were on their way to St Vincent’s. On the way he suffered another more critical stroke and they were forced to go to St George Hospital to operate to relieve some of the pressure.

On Thursday the 24 March, they transferred him to St Vincent’s where he was on life support. Unfortunately, he continued to experience bleeds and the decision was made to let my boy go.

We have always been aware of the gift of life having hoped he would be one of the recipients but fate had decided that he would be the giver. On Sunday 29th March 2015 he gave his gift of his kidneys and tissue.

With each day I think of how lucky our family has been to have had the time we had with a wonderful, witty, smart, and immensely talented son, brother, uncle, nephew, husband, friend and colleague. Myself, my husband and my daughter are all registered organ donors.

You can join thousands of Canberrans at Gift of Life’s DonateLife Walk to raise awareness of the importance of organ and tissue donation. 

The annual walk is at a new location starting at the Patrick White Lawns, between the National Library of Australia and Lake Burley Griffin, gathering at 6.45am on Wednesday 1 March. For more details and to register head to giftoflife.asn.au

Participate individually or get a team together for Canberra’s largest community event that raises awareness about organ and tissue donation – it’s completely free. Both walks finish with a free BBQ breakfast served by the Lions Club Belconnen. A limited number of free t-shirts, hats and giveaways will be available on the day with first in, best dressed.

Image by Martin Ollman

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Mardie Kearns

Mardie lives and works locally and believes in the power of community. When her son, Ben, passed away in 2015 due to health complications, she played a key role in deciding whether her son's organs and tissues would benefit others in need. Together with her family, Mardie ultimately supported her son's decision to give the ultimate gift to people he would never meet: the gift of life. She chose community. Today, Mardie is a strong advocate for organ and tissue donation and hopes others can choose community too. More about the Author

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