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NEWS1130 Series: Courage to Come Back Awards

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – They are inspiring, generous and humble. News1130 has begun a series to profile the winners of the 2012 Courage to Come Back Awards with this look at Margaret Benson, recipient in the medical category.

As a child, Margaret was told she would never live to see adulthood. These days, the 52-year-old sets records at the World Transplant Games.

She always knew she was different from other kids, then one day doctors confirmed it. Margaret was 14-years-old when she was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. She was told she had a year left to live.

“And I remember in my mind going – I think naivety is the greatest thing – I went, ‘No, no. No, no. That’s not me. I’m going to live forever. I’m going to live until I’m old and grey!’ And I always say to people, ‘I have no grey hairs in my head. This is all natural!’ I just wasn’t going to believe it.”

Margaret did grow up, went to school, and pursued a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

“I started teaching when I was three. I used to line all my teddy bears up and all my dolls and I would teach to them. Of course, they didn’t talk back back then but I knew I wanted to be a teacher at a very young age,” she explains.

“And when everybody tells you, ‘No, no, no, you can’t do it, you’re not going to make it through high school, you’re not going to make it through university, and teaching is not the career for you.’ It makes you determined to do it.”

Graduating from SFU’s teaching program at 21, Margaret became one of the youngest teachers ever to lead a class in the District of North Vancouver.

“That was my dream. I loved being in the classroom. I loved being with my students.”

But one day she noticed her CF was getting progressively worse. Then came a heart wrenching decision.

“And I remember saying to the doctors, ‘Look, give me three more diseases, I’ll be fine with that but don’t taking teaching away from me.’ That was one of the saddest days of my life, when I had to turn the lights off in my classroom and say, ‘I don’t know if I’ll come back to this,” she admitted while choking back tears.

By 1998, her health had deteriorated to the point where she was advised to go in for a double-lung transplant.

“Imagine yourself drowning but not being in water.”

Not knowing if she would ever see the inside of a classroom again, Margaret was also faced with a moral dilemma.

“That was one of the hardest decisions to make because I knew someone would have to die in order for me to live. They said I had to either go for a double lung transplant or I will die of Cystic Fibrosis.”

But going through that opened up all sorts of possibilities.

Since then she’s taken part in nine Sun runs, has competed in the World Transplant Games, and speaks to groups about the importance of organ donation.

“And I do it in honour of donors and donor families. I do it to give hope to other people waiting for a transplant. I do it to give hope to people living with Cystic Fibrosis. So yeah, as soon as I knew I was on my journey of recovery, I knew what my job would be.”

Best of all, Margaret’s back in the classroom one day a week, doing what she loves – teaching.

News1130 is a very proud sponsor of the Courage to Come Back Awards, which will be handed out on May 17th at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Check back next Monday when we introduce you to the next Courage to Come Back Awards winner.