Ben Wolfenden, 33, has cystic fibrosis making his life filled with challenges, but with that comes a drive of success and determination.
Ben was a normal 13-year-old boy playing football with his friends. Then one day he remembered rushing to the hospital to be treated for a genetic illness that would alter his world forever. Ben Wolfenden, 33, founder of Visibilis, was diagnosed with cystic fibroses (CF) as a baby. He was only 13 years old when he was told he would live to 30. In a split second he realised how significantly life changing the condition was. His childhood would never be the same as other kid’s, constantly being admitted to hospital every month for a week.
Ben deals with a series of chest infections, digestive problems and diabetes from a very young age, so challenges where a constant in his life growing up. Just like any young boy, he would want to play football with his friends, but when they would head out, Ben had to be rushed to hospital. “Everyone would go out but I would have so much more responsibility to think and consider my health first,” says Ben. This may have pushed him back socially, but he was far too determined to sacrifice everything in his life. He would allow himself some element of fun, whether it be hanging out with friends, playing a bit of football or going on a night out. This was to prove to himself that “despite having cystic fibrosis, I could achieve something and feel worthy, even like running a business or having a family,” he stressed.
Ben started his digital marketing business Visibilis back in 2010, with the main aim of building a good client relationship for their digital needs. This came about when he worked for digital agencies after graduating university, he thought: “it would be more beneficial for me and my health if I worked for myself.” He dedicates all his time to the company, working seven days a week, he enjoys it and it doesn’t seem like work to him.
He even won the Stelios award for disabled entrepreneurs in 2014 for his commitment. The prestigious award recognises disabled entrepreneurs in the UK, who have shown an obligation to hard work as well as proving anyone can get along in business on their own. Ben was awarded a £50,000 cash prize to grow his business which was presented by EasyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-loannou and the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity.
The award from a business perspective helped Ben massively for the company. It helped him take up permanent staff which as a result, made the company grow double in size since 2014. Their figures have also doubled in size taking the company to great financial success. But most importantly the award helped him take risks where he wouldn’t necessary have taken them, like moving offices to a bigger place, it made him more confident in what he does.
But starting a whole new business was not a walk in the park, Ben faced many challenges along the way, he explains: “the number of times you get knocked back, get refused or don’t even get work is really unbelievable.” This happened to him all the time, especially in the beginning after university, everyone would refuse taking him on. But Ben describes how you have to keep saying to yourself tomorrow is a new day, finding that you will become successful because you keep on trying. “It’s all about how hard you work,” luck will eventually come as you are working so hard. So when it came to him starting up Visibilis, he said: “It was about me taking back control, and as long as I feel in control, I’m happy.”
He works his day around his condition, spending every two and a half hours in the morning getting ready for the day. Ben wakes up at 5:30am and does his physio, nebulisers, and pills. He also takes another 60 pills throughout the day.
You can meet Ben and won’t even realise there’s anything wrong, but then all of a sudden, two days later he’s in hospital. This happens to him all the time, he will get sick but then better. “People with CF often look healthy, but it is a life limiting condition,” Sophia Robey, from the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, says. “The condition is caused by a genetic mutation in the cells of the human body that are unable to move water and salt around,” this can cause a significant “build-up of mucus in the digestive system and lungs.”
People who suffer from CF usually inherit it from a faulty gene that is passed from both parents. It usually effects an individual’s lungs and digestive system due to the sticky mucus build up. Although there are no possible cures for CF, there are treatments an individual can take. These include antibiotics to prevent chest infections, special techniques to clear mucus from the lungs, medicines to absorb food better, and possibly a lung transplant.
Regardless of this, CF has taken a heavy toll on Bens health over the years. Before he used to be in hospital once a year, now he is in every three weeks. When this happens he takes a course of injections over a two-week period. Over the years the damage that gets caused to his lungs though infections make him weaker as well as his routine getting tougher.
But in spite of this, his optimism doesn’t fade. In fact, he says: “this helps me a lot in working life because you get refused but then you don’t worry as the next day or week will be different.” With all the challenges life has thrown at him, he stresses it is important to keep on trying not matter how often you get pushed back. There will always be problems in life and it’s a case of trying to make it with a smile on your face, even though it’s not easy, tomorrow will always be another day. “There will be highs and lows, but it’s how you manage the lows” it’s about saying “you know what I can go on from this,” Ben describes.