Valla man gives his organ donation story wheels

Marcus Sims and the story of recycled parts

The topic of recycling is dear to the heart, or rather liver, of Marcus Sims.

As the recipient of this vital organ seven years ago, he considers himself to be made from 'recycled parts' ... which led to the idea of creating his 'Recycle: Donate Life' van from recycled parts found and/or donated.

The project takes him back to his roots with "the much-rusted 1914 'T' model truck chassis originally sourced from the farm once owned by my parents at Valla (on the NSW Mid North Coast) and recently used to stack our firewood supply".

As Marcus puts it: "I guess its dedication must be to my parents and my donor, the family to whom I will be forever grateful because they gave me the gift of life."

The journey to this healthy outlook has however a tough one, starting 15 years ago when a doctor friend said to him "You don't look well my friend".

At the time Marcus worked full-time in his busy framing business, East Coast Picture Framers, in Coffs Harbour. He did however heed the advice and went to the doctor.

With a bilirubin count "through the roof", he was transferred immediately to Port Macquarie, where they told him he had an inoperable tumour, that was most likely malignant, on his bile duct.

"I had to break the news to my wife Val over the phone. Our lives changed overnight. I had to shut the business completely, after 25 years ... all that goodwill and super gone in a flash.

"Friends helped move everything out. I was pretty crook.

"I was referred to a specialist at Westmead Hospital and the plan was to put a radioactive wire inside the bile duct."

A pretty extreme measure in anyone's terms but when he awoke from the operation the doctor told him that a closer look at the images, made him think his tumour might be benign and therefore manageable via a less invasive route.

"That was incredible news, because 96 per cent of these sort of tumours are malignant ... which means you have a 96 per cent chance of dying!"

Treatment continued using stents but it was a "very sick period" for Marcus, with the stents continually getting infected.

He was referred to gastroenterologist Prof Geoff McCaughan at RPA where an alternative treatment using inflatable balloons was tried with some success.

By 2013 however Marcus was deteriorating rapidly. He was sleeping 34 out of every 36 hours in the hospital bed set up in the spare room at home. Val, herself a nurse, was caring for him.

With the outlook pretty bleak, the family decided to celebrate Christmas early ... they shared a lunch on December 12, after which the ambulance arrived to take Marcus to hospital.

"I was pretty resigned ... I was thinking this was my last trip.

"But then at 4am on December 23 a nurse woke me and told me to have a shower because I was possibly having a transplant. I had had one false start nine months earlier, which had been really tough."

Marcus remembers little of the following days, except some very vivid and strange dreams.

"Apparently with all the drugs I was on, my personality changed and I was an absolute bastard," he laughs.

"When I did start coming round I remember very clearly that I couldn't work out where the centre of me was, I was struggling with the fact there was another person there, another me.

It felt like there were two of everything ... two left toes ... it was strange, it took a while to adjust.

Marcus Sims

Looking back, Marcus says he always thought he was going to be OK ... but he also felt OK if that was not the way it went.

"I was not young, I was 65 years-old when I had the operation. It has all been pretty incredible.

"I have met so many wonderful people along the way and there was a sense that everyone was on my side ... it was very positive, not everyone is that lucky."

And so we come back to the little truck, which became a symbol for Organ Donation Week locally with outings to South West Rocks, Coffs Harbour and the Valla Beach Markets.

But not this year ...

"As someone who is immunosuppressedI am at high risk with COVID ... I wear a mask whenever I am out and really wish that everyone else would do the same.

"Even a vaccine can't help me as a transplantee because they are either live or boost your immune system, something I can't tolerate. I'm looking at the long haul as far as mask wearing goes."

With DonateLife Week just gone, Marcus is keen to encourage any would-be organ donors.

"Absolutely do it! I wouldn't be here without this precious donation, I wouldn't have met my grandson.

"It's a simple process to register and it can make the world of difference."

To register: CLICK HERE

This story Marcus Sims and the story of recycled parts first appeared on Guardian News.