(from left) Dawn, Kai, Coen and Mark share a sunset.
(from left) Dawn, Kai, Coen and Mark share a sunset. contributed


Coen Ashton, contributed
Coen Ashton, contributed

COEN Ashton never got to meet the family of the man who gave him a pair of lungs and an extra five years of life.

But Coen's mum Dawn and father Mark will meet them on Saturday at his funeral.

The former Maryborough man was born with cystic fibrosis, a disease that would attack his lungs and leave him in need of a double lung transplant when he was still in his early teens.

The 20-year-old was born to two parents who loved to travel.

Dawn and Mark were living in a mobile home when Coen was born, determined to travel Australia and the world with their new baby in tow.

But when Coen was just a few weeks old, standard tests carried out when he was first born revealed he had the life-threatening chronic illness.

The diagnosis changed their lives.

In order to care for their tiny son, the two had to learn how to do physiotherapy, as well as how to use nebulisers to treat him.

"Doing four hours a day of treatment was normal," Dawn said.

As Coen got older, Mark and Dawn had to pick a spot to settle down so that Coen could receive medical care.

He was in and out of hospital on a regular basis and the family often couldn't plan more than two weeks ahead because so much was dependent on Coen's health.

But his illness rarely held him back.

From an early age Coen was an adrenaline junkie and he had his first motorbike by the time he was 4.

"He never had fear, from a very young age," Dawn said.

"We didn't want to restrict him in what he did."

That sense of adventure would only grow as he got older.

When Coen was 8, the family welcomed another baby, Kai.

Three weeks after his brother arrived, Coen was in hospital.

He didn't leave until Kai had his first birthday after catching a bug that did a lot of damage to his lungs and meant he would need a double lung transplant sooner than anyone anticipated.

"We spent quite a few nights wandering around the hospital hunting for hermit crabs," Dawn said.

A few years later, inspired by the incredible efforts of young round-the-world sailor Jessica Watson, Coen told his parents he wanted to travel the length of the Murray River on a jet ski.

He wanted to sign up 1000 people to the cause of organ donation and spread awareness.

Sure enough, he did it and in the process he claimed the Child of Courage medal at the Pride of Australia awards.

Then came the call they had been waiting for.

Coen was taken to hospital to receive the double lung transplant, but at the last minute the family was told the lungs weren't viable.

"That was the hardest day of my life, apart from the one coming up tomorrow," Dawn said.

"We didn't know if we would get another phone call, but fortunately we did."

From the first, Coen understood that another family had given him that gift.

The donor's family reached out to the Ashtons, with his 15-year-old daughter telling Coen "you've got my father's lungs".

Dawn said the family was able to figure out who received the lungs after seeing a child on oxygen walking into the hospital.

The two families will meet for the first time on Saturday as they gather to mourn Coen.

After the gift of his lung transplant, Coen enjoyed several healthy years, travelling across the country sharing his story with school children and being named the Fraser Coast's Young Citizen of the Year.

He also got a four-wheel drive and would go off road with his friends and Kai at Rainbow Beach.

"They were definitely the best days of Coen's life," Dawn said.

Sadly, in the past year, Coen became ill again.

He died at the Alfred Hospital on October 18 after his kidney function rapidly deteriorated in the last few months due the effects of Type 1 diabetes and the medication he had needed to take after having the lung transplant.

His parents had hoped to give their son one of their kidneys, but his time on dialysis took a huge toll on his body and he was never well enough to receive the donation.

Coen Ashton,16, is proof of how much difference transplants can make. To Coen organ tissue donors are heroes. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle
Coen Ashton,16, is proof of how much difference transplants can make. To Coen organ tissue donors are heroes. Photo: Robyne Cuerel / Fraser Coast Chronicle Robyne Cuerel

There will be a convoy of vehicles and Coen's coffin will be taken to Williamstown City Hall in Melbourne in the back of his favourite Kombi van.

Hundreds of mourners will gather to pay their respects and share their final messages, but perhaps none will say it better than Dawn already has while sitting with her son before he died.

As Coen's body lost the battle it had been fighting since he was born, his mum shared her final words with her son.

"It's been an honour," she told him.

"We're the ones who have been blessed."

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