NEWCASTLE/BONN Getting to a world sporting competition takes a lot of work and a lot of luck. The thousands of athletes in Newcastle, England needed a lot of luck off the playing field to even make it. Every single one of them had an organ transplant. Kai Dambach, an American journalist living in Bonn, reports for GA English.
Getting to a world sporting competition takes a lot of work and a lot of luck. The thousands of athletes in Newcastle, England needed a lot of luck off the playing field to even make it. Every single one of them had an organ transplant.
In my case I had three kidney transplants. I was born with kidneys that hardly worked. My right kidney was taken out before I was a year old. Then my father gave me a kidney when I was two. Unfortunately, this was the mid-90’s and transplants taking adult organs and shoving them into young children’s bodies was still relatively new. The transplant failed almost immediately. I had another transplant when I was four, when my mom gave me a kidney just before her birthday. Everything went well this time and it lasted all throughout my education.
But it started to decline after 18 years in my body. My brother and a friend of my mother’s (a woman that my mother worked out with, who also happened to be a substitute teacher from when I was a little kid), were willing to donate. They both got tested, but she got the call saying she was a perfect match. In August 2014 she donated a kidney to me and became a part of my family.
My transplant story was just one of thousands on hand during the past week in Newcastle. Athletes from over 50 countries with new hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys and bone marrow competed against one another in several sports, including track and field, swimming, tennis and other non or light contact sports.
While the competition was tough, everyone knew that we were there for more than just playing sports. During breaks we shared our transplant stories, laughed and bonded about transplant life, knowing we could finally talk about our transplants with someone who really understood.
But these games are not just a competition for transplant recipients. Donors and families of deceased donors got to take part as well. During opening ceremonies, donors and their families walked in last and got a standing ovation from everyone in the arena that would not stop until long after they took their seats. If it weren’t for people like them, none of us would be here after all. My mother took part in the 5km run, 50m swim, long jump and ball throw against other donors.
Personally speaking, I didn’t come close to a medal. I got last or nearly last in everything I took part in (squash, tennis, table tennis, badminton). Same as my mother. But as our opponents who became friends, the volunteers, and even curious locals said, “you’re a winner just by showing up here”.
That’s absolutely right. I would much rather get taken to school in any sport than be in the hospital. Now that I’m healthy enough to be out here and compete, there’s no better time than now to just enjoy life. I’m on my fourth chance at life now. I’ve been given these chances to continue. Let’s keep it going.