Rae and Shelly Black met 21 years ago while working together, and tied the knot in 2004. They had been happily married with two boys until 2011 when they realised something was wrong.
“Shelley was probably unwell for about 3 months before we realised she was very unwell. On the day we found out Shelley went in to work not feeling great, and progressively got worse. I spoke with her at dinner time and told her to go to the walk in clinic in Selly Oak.
“After being checked out there, they sent her to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for further check-ups.”
She was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, an illness that affects over a million people in the UK. The illness is a long term condition, which slowly causes the kidneys functions to lower.
Rae said, “The news hit us like a brick. Shelley is the backbone of our household — I pretty much work all the time and Shelley organises everything — and the news was quite hard to take because of the uncertainly it brought and the feeling of uselessness that comes with it.”
The family of four stayed strong, fighting each day together.
“We have a strong mentality towards illness in our house. Whether it’s a cold or Shelley’s kidney illness we refuse to let it beat us, we fight it as a family, we never hid it from our kids — although there are days when it is not great and we just rally round.”
Shelly herself is continuously fighting for her family.
“Physically for Shelley the disease causes her to be tired and she has to rest, but we work round it, mentally – Shelley is like me: we refuse to let this beat us. We will fight it until we beat it.”
The Millennium Point security guard stood by his wife during the visits and after speaking with his doctor he decided to take it on himself to get into shape to become a donor if his wife needs a kidney.
“I was around 18.5 stone at this time. He said the fitter I was, the better my recovery time, and the better shape my kidney would be in for Shelley, and so towards the end of August 2013 I started running.”
Becoming the marathon man
The running led him to taking part in raising money through holding bake sales and running marathons. Rae took the challenge seriously and prepared heavily.
“There is a lot of prep that goes into training for a marathon, generally training for 16-20 weeks and with a steady build-up of mileage to get your body use to fatigue and for you to get accustomed to your running gear.”
His need to stay in shape has led to him doing several marathons.
“In 2016 I ran six races of marathon or further distance, and in 2017 I plan to run around the same — but some races are longer than the marathon distance.”
The illness has strengthened Rae’s views on life, making him a stronger person, with a more positive outlook on life.
“I’m motivated to keep myself as fit as possible for the donor operation, to see how far I can run in one go and to see how far I can push myself. I truly believe things happen for a reason, it has been pretty hard on our family, but at the same time it has also pulled us closer together.”
Shelly is running strong herself and the donation from her husband will only take place after dialysis has not worked and Shelley’s kidneys have failed — at the moment they are not quite at dialysis stage. But this hasn’t stopped Rae from keeping up his marathon efforts with new goals in his mind.
“I’m currently training for a race in April which will see me run 53 miles or a double marathon in one go, this is currently my goal race but I have my eye on a 100k race later on in the year.”
And as for his advice to those who have been given a similar diagnosis, he says “take every day as it comes”:
“Don’t let it beat you and, as clichéd as it might sound, fight it don’t let get you down.”
To find out more about Kidney Research UK visit their website.