Gareth and Jemma Cattran live in Helston, Cornwall. Through no fault of their own, they found themselves facing physical, emotional and financial battles on several fronts.
When he’s sat in his tractor, with his mind free to wander, Gareth Cattran often reflects on what his family has been through these past few years. He and wife Jemma faced a parent’s worst nightmare; the risk of losing their newborn son John. Then, Gareth did battle with his own serious health issues which forced him to have a kidney transplant at the age of just 29.
Son John was born in 2014 and initially all seemed well. However, at just three days old he collapsed unexpectedly and had to be airlifted from the family’s Cornish home to a hospital in Bristol where it was discovered he had suffered a heart attack. He underwent emergency keyhole surgery. By the time he was six weeks old, John had undergone three major life-saving heart operations and ‘flatlined’ several times. Gareth and Jemma were told he was unlikely to survive.
With their world caving in around them, herdsman Gareth did not expect his employers to ‘let him go’ because he was not around to milk the cows. He felt desperately let down when he most needed the support of those around him.
John remained in hospital in Bristol for three months, but he was a fighter. Given an artificial heart valve, he beat the odds and today is an inquisitive and outgoing little boy who is determined to be a farmer just like his Dad. He proudly shows off his chest scars to anyone who wants to see them and even won his race at the recent school sports day.
He’s oblivious too, thankfully, to what his parents went through whilst he was in hospital; the emotional and financial struggles that forced them to rely on benefits for the first time in their lives. For three months they stayed in accommodation provided by another charity in Bristol during the week and went home at weekends. Their daughter Jessica, just two years old at the time, was looked after by Jemma’s parents at their family home / stables – next to the house that Gareth and Jemma built for themselves.
Gareth has always worked in farming, but it was a cardiac nurse who first told him about R.A.B.I. They got in touch and received financial help towards travel and living costs.
“It’s a pride thing, the way I was brought up,” Gareth said. “It felt humiliating. All that we’ve got we’ve worked hard for and paid for ourselves.
“My parents, and Jemma’s too, taught us to appreciate the value of money and if you can’t afford something you go without. It was very difficult for me to ask for help, it was actually one of the hardest things. It’s a pride thing, the way I was brought up. It felt humiliating. All that we’ve got we’ve worked hard for and paid for ourselves.”
Although he had always had a reflux kidney problem, Gareth did not expect his own health to deteriorate so severely. Told he needed a transplant, he was still in shock when the call came just before Christmas 2017 that a living donor had walked in off the streets and offered to donate one of her kidneys. He was a perfect match.
Jemma, a riding instructor at the family stables, took on more work but the weight on her shoulders was heavy; with her husband needing to make several 160-mile round trips to Plymouth Hospital each week, a young son with a serious heart condition and a daughter anxious about everything that was going on around her.
Complications, following Gareth’s transplant, made things a whole load worse. Jemma explained: “The stress was unreal. Gareth had the worst of the worst reactions to the immune suppressants and we weren’t prepared for that. His kidney basically stopped working and he was rushed to hospital. They thought he was going to have a heart attack and said he could lose the kidney.”
R.A.B.I supported the family financially and advised them how to claim ESA and tax credits. However, by February 2018, Gareth’s kidney function had dropped to six per cent and he became seriously ill with huge clots effectively crushing his kidney. He underwent surgery to remove the clots under local anaesthetic but there was a genuine risk he wouldn’t pull through.
The following six to eight months were extremely tough. By May 2018, Gareth was well enough to do a little tractor work on the two farms he was now working for, but it left him exhausted. He lost his confidence and suffered anxiety. He returned to hospital after suffering a lung infection and sepsis. Within months, he also contracted one of the worst cases of shingles that the hospital nurses had ever seen, which stripped away much of his skin and affected his nervous system. He was placed in a special isolation unit developed by the hospital for Ebola cases.
The rest of 2018 was a blur and Gareth’s health problems left him depressed, feeling like he was a burden. Jemma was drained too; working 40 hours per week and trying to give her family the emotional strength they needed. Throughout, R.A.B.I continued to support them financially. Now, midway through 2019, they’re in a much better place.
Gareth said: “We want to put the last two or three years behind us. I’m doing OK and working for two local farms who treat me as good as gold. It makes such a difference to work for people who are understanding.”
Jemma added: “I’d never really been to hospital much, but I spent the best part of two years living in them. None of what happened was our fault, but it was difficult to get help. I’m so grateful to R.A.B.I because there was nothing or no one else out there for us.
“My mindset has changed a bit over the last few years. Now, if we want to do something, we just try and do it. As a family, we want to make the most of time together.”