Ryan Marsden is excited to be getting married to the love of his life next year - yet for so long it is something he thought would never happen.
The 32-year-old Palmerston North man has been told at least four times during his life he might not survive complications from cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening condition he was born with which affects the functioning of the lungs making breathing difficult.
"He wasn't supposed to live," says his mother Jenny Marsden. "I've been told to prepare for the worst so many times I've lost count. For years I've planned his funeral but he has survived against all odds and confounded many doctors; he's very strong."
His years of struggle began at just six weeks when doctors told his parents he was unlikely to survive the night. There was a similar prognosis at age one and at age two he was given, at best, another two years to live. Then in 2018 when his body rejected a new lung given during a second transplant operation, doctors again didn't expect him to survive.
Against the odds, Marsden has survived and although his situation remains precarious his uphill battle is beginning to look a little brighter. In April he will be marrying his partner Sam Gillan and gaining a family through her two daughters aged 11 and 8.
This week he received more good news. Hearing the couple was unable to afford a honeymoon, the ASB have named him an ASB Good as Gold recipient awarding him $10,000 in travel vouchers and $5000 spending money.
"Ryan's determination and will to live is an absolute inspiration," says ASB Lower North Island regional manager Barry Coffey. "He hasn't let his illness hold him back from anything in life. To have beaten the odds this many times and now to be marrying the love of his life is something well worth celebrating. We hope this gift will help him and Sam do just that," Coffey says.
The couple, who met on an internet date almost three years ago, will use the money for a 10-day honeymoon cruise in the Pacific which will include stops at places such as New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
Marsden says he proposed in August: "Because of my health issues we're not taking our time. I want to be healthy to be around for Sam and the kids; I don't plan for the worst to happen and why stop when you've got a good thing going?
"I've got quite a long list of things I've overcome, but I don't look at my life as a sob story," he says. "I've always had wonderful doctors and nurses and I've never feared hospital. Some of the operations I've had were hard to endure but I'm very grateful for the (lung) donors because people have tragically passed away in order for me to have them."
About 550 New Zealanders have cystic fibrosis which, according to Cystic Fibrosis New Zealand, is the most common life-threatening genetic condition affecting New Zealand children. It can cause inflammation and infection in the lungs making it difficult to breathe and there is no known cure.
Marsden estimates he spent 10 -15 weeks in hospital every year for at least 20 years. Having survived through his childhood, he was told in 2014 his only option was a lung transplant.
"Life was good for three years until he got pneumonia which obliterated both transplanted lungs," says Jenny Marsden who nominated her son for the ASB award. "In October 2018 he had a second transplant but unfortunately it did not go to plan, and due to massive blood loss only one lung was transplanted.
"His lung function now is only at 34 per cent and he's still precarious. He's put his hand up for a third transplant - that will be a first for New Zealand - he's got such a will to live."
Jenny Marsden says Ryan's partner Sam has "two beautiful daughters who cherish Ryan."
The feeling is mutual. "They asked me to be Dad right from the start," he says. "It's been easy, I feel like I've been there all along and although I wasn't looking for a family, I've got one now. It's nice."
Although he had to stop work last year (he drove trucks for three years prior to that), Marsden continues to pack as much into his life as possible.
Once a week he plays social tennis. "It's a way of keeping in shape and although I'm on only one lung, I've adapted. I do get breathless but I still give it a nudge and can play for quite a while because it's stop-start; if I was playing rugby or football I'd be done in five minutes."
Marsden says he is grateful for the support he has received from both Sam and his mother. "Sam has given up work to look after me, and over the years Mum came to every doctor's appointment and was there during all my hospital stays; she's really gone above and beyond."