Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

When the Canadian Transplant Games were in Vancouver this July, transplant recipients from all over Canada came to participate. Everyone had their own reason for attending but the gratitude for a second chance at life was clearly shared by everyone in attendance. This gratitude was multidimensional. Caregivers and supporters came to cheer on their loved ones. Recipients were grateful for restored health. New friendships were formed, and existing bonds strengthened. Above all, the message was universal: organ donation works. Here are just a few of the amazing transplant recipients who participated in the Games.

Natalie holding her two gold medals

Natalie was born with biliary atresia, a life-threatening childhood liver disease that has no known cause and no cure. After a childhood and adolescence spent in and out of the hospital, Natalie underwent a liver transplant in April 2017 at 19 years old. Not only did Natalie’s donor save her life but her transplant allowed her to live life like never before, “My new liver gave me the health and freedom to live up to the spirit that was always locked away to some extent by my disease.” While she was in the hospital recovering, her ICU team named her new liver ‘Larry’.

Winning gold in the 5km and 20km road cycling events and the 100 meter breaststroke swim was testament to Natalie’s new health. Most importantly, her participation in the Games allowed her to pay tribute to her donor. Together, she and Larry crossed multiple finish lines.

A transformative moment for Natalie came when she met one of the donor families attending the Games. That meeting lead to a unique friendship that will undoubtedly endure.

Tony following his gold medal finish in the 200-metre swim

Transplantation has always been a family affair for Tony, a BC athlete who won medals in both the 200 meter swim and 20 km bike race. Therefore, it made perfect sense that the Canadian Transplant Games would also be a week shared with his wife and eldest daughter. They were there to support Tony and cheer him on as he reclaimed his athletic zest for life. An avid marathon runner prior to being diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, a liver disease that attacks the bile ducts, Tony had to let go of his athletic lifestyle as his illness progressed.

The Games were a chance for Tony to prove to himself that he is strong and capable. His confidence was restored, and he is more determined than ever to pursue his dream of being a triathlete.

Tony treasures the medals he received, not only for what they represent, but because they were presented to him by a family member of a donor. Tony is all too aware of how close he came to death, a realization shared by all recipients at the Games, which is why, first and foremost, the week is all about embracing life.

Andrew at his 3rd Transplant Games

At the young age of 12, Andrew was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. Just four weeks after the devastating diagnosis, Andrew received a new heart. Initially, he recovered well. But then he developed lymphoma, a known complication of transplant life. A determined young man, Andrew persevered and overcame the setback and has gone on to become a regular attendee at the Transplant Games. He competed in the Canadian Transplant Games in Toronto in 2016 and the World Transplant Games in Spain in 2017.

For Andrew, the Games are not about where he places on the podium – for the record he won three gold medals and one silver medal – rather it is about having fun and doing his best.

One of his favorite aspects of the Games is connecting with other recipients. As a transplant teen, transplant life can be isolating. Friends don’t always understand the pills, test and doctors’ visits, but everyone at the Games shares an unspoken understanding of the transplant journey. It is this camaraderie that makes the Games so special and unique.

Audrée celebrated her win with her daughter, Audrée Ann

All the way from St. Robert, Quebec, Audrée came to participate in her third Canadian Transplant Games. Audrée’s involvement was a chance to help dispel many of the myths surrounding organ donation and transplantation.

At just 19 years old, Audrée came down with a stomach flu which turned into fulminant hepatitis. Perfectly healthy prior to this illness, she was now in desperate need of a liver transplant. Within a week, she received her liver from a donor who was 88 years old. Audrée is quick to point out that sometimes age is just a number as this past July she celebrated her fifteenth year post transplant, making her liver 103 years old!

Even though Audrée won five medals, her most memorable moment was swimming in the relay with a four year old liver recipient. She watched the little girl, full of pride and joy, swim with all her might towards her mom. Audrée remarks, “The Games encourage transplant patients to be the best and most healthy version of themselves. They help recipients regain their physical fitness, connect with other people who have gone through similar experiences and fully embrace their second chance at life.” Audrée perfectly captures what the Games are all about, “One thing is for certain, while at the Games we couldn’t feel further away from a hospital bed.”

The Transplant Research Foundation of BC was honored to have a small role in the Games by hosting an educational session for participants and the transplant community called Let’s Talk Transplant. This was a chance for us to connect with transplant recipients and offer information they could utilize to live their best life post-transplant. We were thrilled to have some of the top leaders in the field of transplant and research present on issues that were relevant and informative to recipients and their families, including the latest in transplant tolerance, traveling with a transplant and understanding immunosuppression medication.

Marianna and Dom, transplant pharmacists and event presenters

Audience at Let’s Talk Transplant listens intently to the information presented