Second chance for SA athlete

2013-07-31 00:00

DURBAN hosts the 19th World Transplant Games this week, with 1 800 athletes from 50 countries competing in a multitude of sporting codes.

Taking on the world’s best at 100 m, long jump and ball throw is Emile Honiball (22), who hails from Winterton where he works with local farmers doing precision work.

As his surname suggests, he is related to the great rugby Springbok Henry Honiball, as Emile’s grandfather and Henry’s father were cousins.

“Knowing Henry and his family is an honour for me, regardless of his rugby achievements he is an unbelievable person, humble, down to earth and a role model to many, including myself,” said Honiball.

In an ironic twist in life, Henry is renowned as a rugby great, while Emile is the recipient of a kidney, donated by his mother 10 months after he was diagnosed with chronic renal disease. However, Honiball has taken the procedure in his stride and it has not diminished his love of sport.

“I have always loved sport and started doing 20 km cycle races when I was eight,” said Honiball.

“I took on my first Cape Argus Cycle Tour at 15 and I enjoyed rugby and cricket at school. I tried everything that was offered and in Grade 11, went on an U17/18 cricket tour to the UK with the KZN invitational team.”

It all changed for Honiball in November 2010, when he was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. This was three weeks into his first year at Afda Film School in Johannesburg and his world was turned upside down.

“To put it mildly, it was a shock to me and my family. Various blood tests and scans confirmed the worst. It was serious,” said Honiball. “I had to be admitted to ICU immediately and the problems continued.

“Doctors tried twice to do a biopsy to determine the cause of the renal failure but failed both times because my kidneys were so hard and small. The needle used to take a tissue sample from my kidneys was pushed away and doctors said my kidneys could have started failing from when I was much younger, maybe five to 10 years previously.”

Subtle symptoms had been ignored by Honiball. Feeling tired most of the time with low energy levels was just a reason for him to push harder on the sports field, although he did find it difficult to perform.

“Unknown to me, the problem had been around a while but I had pushed on,” he said.

“The only solution was having a transplant, which was something I was completely ignorant of. I never knew what it was about and was unsure whether to go ahead with it, until a doctor told me that if I had not been admitted, I would have died in the next eight weeks. This was a scary predicament.”

With his mother a potential donor, the process of the gift of life began. After seven months of tests, the match was confirmed and the transplant could go ahead.

“On November 13, 2010, I had the transplant. Looking back, it was the greatest day of my life. Even when I woke after surgery, I felt stronger and my will to live was back,” said Honiball.

“I had endured dialysis while in hospital, three times a week for four hours a session, something I would never want to repeat.”

After three weeks of monitoring, Honiball was discharged but, to prevent infection, he was isolated from the world, having to wear a surgical mask.

“The whole house was disinfected and no animals were allowed. Even friends were kept at bay as my immune system was so low and there was the chance the kidney, which the body saw as foreign, could have been rejected if I did not take my immune suppressents and other anti-rejection medication.”

Honiball is on medication for the rest of his life, but he can once again appreciate sport and the outdoors he enjoys so much.

This is his maiden appearance at the World Transplant Games and his goal is to give of his best, celebrate life and appreciate the opportunity to represent his country.

“I have no idea what to expect at the games but being part of it is a highlight for me,” said Honiball.

“I train three to four times a week and am aware of certain foodstuffs I need to avoid such as biltong, sushi and grapefruit.

“I don’t have much sugar and my salt intake is low. Drinking plenty of water is also essential.”

Honiball is making the most of his second chance in life. He enjoys visiting game reserves, plays golf and rides around the farm on his motorbike.

Movies are one of his favourite pastimes and when he can spoil his taste buds, seafood, other than oysters, does the trick.

“Life is still there for me to enjoy thanks to the sacrifices made by my family.

“Getting another chance has added value to every second of every day and I must make the most of what I have been given,” said Honiball.

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