Riding against the odds

Three days after receiving a life saving liver transplant when his liver swelled up to the size of a small football, Tumut resident Bruce Giles, made his first steps out of the hospital bed.

The following day, he walked to the cafeteria for lunch, and the next he walked to the lawns outside the hospital to enjoy the sun.

Eventually, seven days after a new liver was swapped with his old one, the hospital physiotherapist walked into his room and asked Bruce, “do you think you’re able to stand up yet?”.

And now five years on from his liver transplant, Giles has won gold medals in cycling at the World and Australian Transplant Games, received an Australia day honor for outstanding sporting achievement and service to the community, and met people from around the world who have also come out the other side of a serious transplant.

Giles has been an avid cyclist ever since his early thirties, when a leg injury temporally put him out of action and he hopped on a bike as a form of rehab.

It took just six months for Giles to become addicted to the sport and quickly work his way from the front of the pack, to the back of the pack in graded scratch races, until now, over 30 years on, back to the front again.

Bruce Giles is all smiles after winning gold at the 2018 Australian Transplant games in the Gold Coast.

But five years ago an old liver problem finally caught up with Giles and he became extremely ill. Giles was suffering from Primary Sclerosing Cholangitits, a disease which caused his liver to inflame and slowly degenerate, forcing a life saving liver transplant.

Fortunately for Giles, the surgery went well, but it wasn’t until a few weeks after the surgery when he started to realize the new life he had been given.

“I went from walking 100m and having to sit down and sleeping 18 hours a day the month before the transplant. To three weeks after, walking 6km and not feeling the effects of it, and I still had stitches in at that time,” Giles said.

“That’s the difference it makes.

“You wake up after surgery and all of a sudden, everything feels normal.”

Following his recovery, Giles wasted no time getting back on his bike and was going for casual rides to Brungle and back within months of his surgery.

Giles has become a passionate advocate for people who have had a transplant and the amazing things they can achieve following a transplant operation.

“Most of them have been through hell and back so there is a drive in nearly every transplant person you find,” he said.

“They’ve gone through difficult adversities and it gives them more motivation and that little bit extra.”

Giles recently competed at the Gold Coast Transplant games earlier this month and returned with another gold medal to his name after winning the 30km road race, which followed the same route as the Commonwealth Games athletes only a few months earlier.

Despite having a liver transplant, Bruce Giles continued to push his body to the limits.

But one of his best memories from the event wasn’t crossing the line first place, instead, it was meeting someone who went under the knife under a year prior, and completed the Olympic standard course with little experience.

“I met a guy who 10 months ago had a double lung transplant.

“And he finished the course at the Gold Coast after only riding for five months, he couldn’t believe he actually finished.

“He spoke to me afterward and said ‘I couldn’t have done this before’.

“And it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s at the world games next year.”

And it is these stories which inspire Giles to get on his bike for a casual 20km ride, and to continue to be a voice for organ donation and the new lease on life it can give people.

You can register to be an organ donor in two minutes at register.donatelife.gov.au.