A Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks superfan has had an unforgettable birthday after being surprised by one of his favourite rugby league legends.
Brendan Doran woke up on Sunday for celebrations for his 52nd birthday, thinking he was simply going to have lunch with his close family. Little did the Cronulla local know he was about to be visited by former Sharks premiership winning captain Paul Gallen.
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In 2019, Brendan, then fifty years old, suffered a “catastrophic” stroke while in Thailand, resulting in damage to the frontal lobe of his brain.
Prior to the stroke, family described Brendan as “the epitome of Cronulla”, a surfing champion, electrical engineer, model and footy player.
But now, they say he is often unrecognisable.
“We’ve had the end of life discussion three times,” said Brendan’s sister Jenny Doran, who detailed the moments when doctors told her family Brendan would likely not make it.
After the stroke, the Cronulla man developed young onset vascular dementia due to a limited blood supply to the brain alongside a battle with Type 1 diabetes.
Brendan spent his 50th birthday in Royal Prince Alfred hospital where he remained for six months, and travelled in and out of before finally being able to move out into a unit in the Sutherland Shire on his 51st birthday.
The move, as well as the surprise birthday meeting, was arranged by Kelly Spooner, Director of Brendan‘s NDIS Service Provider, Two Summers, alongside her team based in the Sutherland Shire.
Ms Doran thanked Two Summers for “taking him (Brendan) on when no-one else could, supporting him through some pretty tough going and arranging a surprise visit from Paul”.
“My brother is the biggest Sharks fan ever and Kelly from Two Summers knew exactly how to cheer him up, after a pretty horrid stint in hospital,” she said.
“What these girls have managed to do is not only give him a bit of dignity, got him in a familiar surrounding, they just really care about him, they are amazing.”
Ms Doran described the moment Brendan and the family received the most astonishing knock on their front door the day of the birthday party.
“I got a call from Kelly who said she wanted to drop Brendan a surprise birthday present,” she said.
“We were sitting at the table, Brendan facing the door, and I was just about to serve tomato soup in bowls for lunch when we heard a knock at the door.”
Doran explained that Spooner walked in the room first to greet Brendan, only to be closely followed by Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks icon, Gallen.
“We’ve gone, ‘Oh my god, it’s Paul Gallen’,” she said.
“Brendan is the biggest Sharks fan ever, always has been, he’s a massive fan, almost to the point of insane.”
To highlight the intensity of Brendan’s Sharks obsession, Ms Doran told news.com.au he had a calf “sleeve-like” tattoo on his leg of a Cronulla flag, but was now fading due to serious infection in Brendan’s legs.
“The look on his face when he realised Paul Gallen was standing there, priceless,” she said.
“He knew straight away it was him.
“If I knew Paul was coming I would’ve cleaned the house, we had no idea.
“This is the cruelty of this dementia, Brendan sat with Paul Gallen talking about blow by blow match details. He wasn’t always in the correct era, but Paul Gallen is the most beautiful human, he never corrected him, he was making Brendan talk in a way that was so normal and I was crying. If he died right now this would be his dream come true.
“None of us could believe it, it was so astounding. “You can’t make this s*** up. It was such a beautiful surprise.”
Ms Doran also thanked the NRL icon for the time he dedicated to making Brendan’s birthday memorable, especially given Sunday was also Father’s Day.
“Paul Gallen, what a gentleman, he went above and beyond,” she said.
“Paul Gallen, our family thanks you from the bottom of our hearts. ️You are a true gentleman, who has made this birthday boy smile and join in meaningful, engaging conversation. He is still buzzing.”