Have you directly or indirectly been affected by the transplantation community? We want to know! Please take a few moments to share your story with us. Our hope is that your story will inspire others to join arms and support the Fit For Life! program and make a difference in the lives of transplant recipients world-wide.

Transplant Community Stories:

Sandy Crowder Eckles, Houston, Texas, kidney transplant, 2010

I call it a God thing. Really, two God things. Both of them involve transplants. Both were gifts of life. And they happened a little over five years apart.

The first one came in 2005 not long after my son Jerry turned 15. He was a freshman at Lamar High School and had just gotten his driver’s license. He came up and asked, ‘Mom, can I put that I want to be a donor on my license?”I said absolutely.

A few months later, he was killed in a ski accident in Breckenridge during a trip with his youth group from Houston’s St. Luke’s Methodist Church. The first call I got after it all happened was from the transplant people in Colorado. They said, “We were calling to see if ….” They didn’t get any farther. I just said absolutely. Those were his wishes. That’s what he wanted. I didn’t have to think twice about it. Because he was killed instantly on the ski run, his heart, lungs and other organs weren’t viable for transplant. But we were able to give his eyes, bone, tissue and skin.

A year later, I was diagnosed with lupus and medullary sponge kidney, which means your kidneys have holes in them. I was fortunate that I was able to do peritoneal dialysis at home at each night, so I slept hooked up to a machine for 8 hours. I can’t say it was horrible because I was able to travel in the United States. They would send my machine and take care of everything I needed. So, I was very lucky, but not everybody can do it like that. When I started the transplant process and people were tested to be a donor, the program wanted a 100 percent match. It was very difficult to find. They told me that finding a match would be nearly impossible.

But in 2009 – about three years into the dialysis – I was visiting my sister Patty in Port Aransas and met at friend of hers who had undergone a kidney transplant in San Antonio. I was on the transplant list in Houston but wasn’t getting any matches. She told me I really needed to talk to Dr. Adam Bingaman, the surgeon who did her transplant. He had pioneered a successful, paired exchange transplant program that wasn’t available in Houston. At Thanksgiving, we were back down in Port A and I saw that Dr. Bingaman was having a clinic in Corpus Christi, so I thought, well, I’ll just go down and meet him. Why not? My husband Tom and I went to the clinic together. Dr. Bingaman was young and cocky and after explaining everything, he told me “I can have you a kidney within 10 months.” When we left, I told Tom this guy was going to do just what he said. And he did.

Ten months later – on September 1, 2010 – Dr. Bingaman did the transplant at Texas Transplant Institute at Methodist Specialty and Transplant Hospital in San Antonio. As it turned out, my sister Tracy’s ex-husband Mike was tested, and we were part of a 3-way swap. He wound up donating his kidney to someone else and I got a kidney from an unknown donor who was a better match. The surgeries were all done at the same time. If someone had gotten sick, it would have ruined the chain, but they didn’t. After the surgery, I had to go to San Antonio for checkups three times a year. Now, I only have an annual checkup and it’s here in Houston.

I have to tell you, one of my favorite stories from my transplant floor was about a teenager from Virginia who was on dialysis and doctors were telling him he would be on it the rest of his life. His mother researched transplants and found Dr. Bingaman and we were transplanted the same week. It was amazing. He was able to play sports afterward and he’s living a great life now. So am I. I have my life back. I’m blessed. To this day, I don’t know who donated to me or any of the people whose lives were touched by Jerry’s donation. It doesn’t matter. That the donations happened, does. I look back now and it’s just pretty amazing the way everything came together. Both times. Now you know why I call them God things.

Amy Frackowiak, Houston Texas, Kidney transplants, 2009 and 2018; coordinator assistant, St. Luke’s Hospital kidney transplant evaluation; co-manager, Team Texas

My story starts when I was 15 years old when, after I got home from a summer camping trip, I noticed a small bite on the bottom of my foot. A few days later, two red lines began to run up both sides of my foot and I had a temperature of 103. My mom rushed me to the hospital, and the doctors found a problem with my kidneys. They thought my kidneys might have been stressed due to the infection and strong antibiotics, but a few months later, there was still a problem. A biopsy showed I had IgA Nephropathy and I might need a transplant in the future. At 25, I started peritoneal dialysis and was on dialysis for the next 3 1⁄2 years. Then, on May 18, 2009 I received the call I had been waiting on for so long. The nurse from St. Luke’s Hospital said they had a kidney, but the function was not optimal and asked if I still wanted it. My kidneys were not working at all, so I said yes. Around midnight, I went into surgery and received my new lease on a normal life. Now, I was able to do things without restrictions because of a selfless donor and her family.

My deceased donor was Ninghe, an 18-year-old foreign exchange student from China and an only child due to the family restrictions in China. I was able to speak to her best friend Vickie in 2011 after I competed in the World Transplant Games in Sweden and, in 2012, I was able to meet Vickie at a donor ceremony in Denver, Colorado. She passed along my donor family’s email address and I emailed them. It wasn’t long before I received a response in Chinese. Since my donor family did not speak English, I had to use Google translate to decipher their message, which was heart breaking but really sweet. They told me about their daughter and her giving spirit and wanted me to be involved in their lives. They even invited me to their home to visit. I have not visited yet but I plan to meet the family who made the decision to give me life.

Shortly after the transplant I was able to attend my first Transplant Games of America in Madison, WI. There are no words to explain this incredible event, which gives donor families and living donors the opportunity to see how their decision to give life made a difference. At the same time, it gives recipients an opportunity to honor their donor and show the public how organ donation can provide a healthy and active lifestyle. The World Games and the US Games both make such an impact on the transplant community I decided to make them regular events. Since 2010, I have competed in all the U.S. Games and have been to three World Games. I accepted the role of Texas team manager for the Games in 2016.

In November 2018, I was blessed again with the gift of life! Nine years after my first transplant my body’s immune system had taken a toll on the transplanted kidney, which gradually began to fail. If I couldn’t find a living donor, I would be waiting a minimum of eight years and would have to go back on dialysis. So, I set out on a mission with the help of many friends to find my next hero. I had shirts made asking for a living donor and family and transplant friends wore them and posted pictures on social media. Kim, a childhood friend of my good friend and liver transplant recipient Katrina heard about it and reached out to St. Luke’s. She was a great match and on November 21, 2018 she became my living donor. I work at St. Luke’s as a coordinator assistant in the kidney transplant evaluation office, but I’ve enrolled in the nursing program at UT-Arlington to become a nurse coordinator in kidney transplant. I want to inspire and provide hope to patients that there is life after transplant and raise awareness about organ donation. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time.

Donna Esposito, Med Surg Manager, Houston Methodist Hospital West and co-manager Team Texas

Transplantation changed my life. But not as a donor or recipient. As a nurse, a friend and a transplant team manager.

In the 1980s, I was a trauma and surgical ICU nurse at what was then Hackensack Hospital and had worked with a lot of donors after accidents. Then I went to a conference about donation and transplantation. I was hooked. And there was no turning back. After spending five years as the organ donor coordinator for New Jersey Sharing Network, Newark Beth Israel Hospital hired me in 1993 as a Cardiac Transplant Coordinator. And there is where the real story I want to tell you begins.

That first year at Beth Israel, I met Derrick when he came into our outpatient clinic to be evaluated. It was one of those moments when you just click. You know there’s a great connection immediately. A little over a week later, as I was about to set up this 32-year-old – yes, just 32 – for appointments, I got a call from Derrick’s cardiologist saying he was in the ICU and really sick. The doctor wanted him to be transferred to us because he didn’t think Derrick was going to survive very long. In fact, the hospital told Derrick’s girlfriend Felicia, who is now his wife, that his first hurdle would be to simply survive the 15-minute helicopter ride to Beth Israel. They weren’t sure he could.

Derrick made it. He spent six or eight weeks in our ICU getting worked up and listed for transplant. And, he was just days away from being put on an LVAD – Derrick got the heart transplant, and, within two days, he was out of bed. He was out of the ICU in four. He spent 10-12 days total in the hospital and was new person when he walked out the door. He was feeling a billion times better than before. But the story doesn’t stop there. Derrick was always active and healthy before he got sick. He played basketball and other sports and that was important to him to get back to what he knew he was able to do. The following spring, I saw a flier posted in the transplant office about the Transplant Games of America and convinced the hospital to take a team to those 1994 Games at Emory University in Atlanta. When I asked Derrick to come, he said no. He said he wasn’t an athlete. I disagreed, and told him yes he was, but I also reminded him the Games aren’t about athleticism. They’re about going and meeting other people like you and sharing your story.

Nine months after his transplant, Derrick won three or four medals at the Games. Felicia flew in the night before competition started and surprised him when he looked up and saw her sitting with me the following day. As he took his place on the track, it hit us. We’re sitting there in the stands, watching someone who, just a few months earlier, had just 10 percent of his heart function and could not get out of bed or walk on his own. Now he’s standing at the starting line, in the starting position getting ready to run a race. We had tears running down our faces. Honesty, we cried for all five days. We watched him run down the track or run up and down a basketball court, as if nothing had ever been wrong. But we knew where he came from and how hard it had been to get to where he was at that moment.

Derrick went to the Games for a decade or so before work, then knee injuries caused him to stop competing. He’s in his late 50s now and he and Felicia have watched all three of their children go through college. His transplanted heart remains strong. I have a picture of us from those 1994 Games on my office wall. In fact, I’ve had that picture on the wall or a shelf in every office I’ve had over the last 26 years. Why? Simple. It reminds me every day of what is really possible in the world of transplantation.

Claeys Ann-Sophie, Belgium, Organ Recipient

I am a kidney transplant recipient. I got my kidney after 3 years on dialysis. It gave me a new chance in life.
I like to go out walking. Before when I was sick I couldn’t even walk in the supermarket anymore. Now I even walked a marathon on the beach in the Netherlands some years ago. I climbed the Mont Ventoux by bicycle last year.
I have participated at the Winter and Summer Games.

Jessica van Slooten, Auckland, New Zealand, Organ Recipient

Well 2020 has been a big year for everyone, however it has been an interesting year for me also as I received the wonderful gift of two new lungs early in the year. After twelve or so years of battling LAM, I finally have the chance to do all of the amazing things that I have wished to do for so long. Since transplant I have walked up lots of hills, been skiing, climbing, jogging and just enjoying life. Words cannot express how thankful I am for a new chance at life, in a year of such turmoil. Kia Kaha everyone – stay strong.

Kian Shah-Ackroyd, Houston, USA, Organ Recipient

When I was a baby I was diagnosed with biliary atresia and had a liver transplant when I was 9 months old. I will be celebrating 15 years since my transplant this coming January.
I love my transplant community and all the friends I have made along the way.
The best part is the transplant games and I am grateful for being able to do all I can thanks to my donor.

Marty Maren, Baltimore, Maryland, Organ Recipient

My personal life was pretty normal. I’m married, I had a career in sales, outside interests and I’m active in the church. But one day my normal routine was impacted and changed forever.

My liver failed suddenly in 2009 due to acetaminophen poisoning, which essentially killed my liver. My wife and advocate convinced the liver transplant team to place me on the transplant list, even though my chances to survive were slim. Once I was placed on the list my wife was told that I had 72 hours to receive a transplant.

I was wheeled into surgery in less than 48 hours but the transplant did not occur because I was too unstable and had uncontrollable bleeding. This liver was not wasted but was sent on to the next recipient on the transplant list.

The surgeon came into the waiting room to tell my wife the bad news. Michele asked the surgeon what options there were to save my life. The surgeon said he could remove my liver with the hope that I would stabilize. Then I would be able to receive a 2nd liver for a transplant. Michele chose that option knowing it was my only hope for survival. She was then told that I had 48 hours to receive the second liver transplant. My wife, my family, friends and even people I didn’t know, prayed to St. Rita, Saint of the Impossible, for the impossible to happen. Beyond medicine, beyond reason, I received a liver and was successfully transplanted in the eleventh hour of the fifth day.

Michele & I are beyond thankful that I’m here today to lead a normal and productive life. My “Second Chance” has changed my perspective in life. What is important now is very different from what was important before my transplant. Now I’m involved in the transplant community, a volunteer at the OPO and my transplant hospital. Also, my wife and I founded a Maryland Chapter of TRIO (Transplant Recipients International Organization) to support others making the transplant journey. It is now an important and necessary part of my everyday life to be an active member of the transplant community.

We have so much to be “Thankful” for because of the generosity of an Organ Donor.

Thank You to my Donor, to St Rita, my wife Michele and Dr. Cameron and his team for “Saving My Life”

Marty…Liver Recipient 2009

Stephen Jarvis, Cornwall, Great Britain, Organ Recipient

Before it all started. I can remember winning a trophy for the most outstanding fighter at the British Judo championships for the third time. I was training hard and had an exciting future ahead in the sport at international level. This was in 1997-98. In 2000 I was working, cut my finger not seriously, but ended up in hospital with septicaemia. Within a month my organs were stopping. I had 12 hours to live, unless my kidneys started to work again. The hospital staff and Doctors were amazing. They managed to get them going and within a week I was out of hospital. Something wasn’t quite right, and within a week I had to go back in for test. I was diagnosed with HSP an immune disorder that attacks kidney tissue. I spent the next 6-7 years in and out of hospital seriously ill until I had my kidney transplant in 2004. The transplant nurse mentioned the transplant games so in 2005 I participated in my first National games at Loughbourgh. 2006 Was the start of a journey for me that was my second bite of the cherry. I started training hard for 2007 World Transplant Games in Thailand. The championships were the best. I came away with 4 gold medals from 4 events and a WR in the high jump and 4x400m relay. Winning the 100m and 4x100m also. I was hungry for more and loved the atmosphere. I returned in 20011 to Sweden and picked up 7 medals 5 gold and another WR improvement in the high jump. Coming up to 40 years of age. I knew I had to do something special in my life. So I worked hard. Along side running a heating business a full time university degree course. I spent every spare time I had training. I was intense. 2017 Malaga Spain. At the track I felt I was floating on air, i felt invincible even before I started. The best shape I had been in since my transplant. The cycling earlier in the week took the nerves away. So the aim was 6 events 6 golds. The 400m was my first event which I hadn’t prepared for. It was all about breaking the 100m WR. That evening it happened. The record was 11.99secs set by a legend of the games. The gun went and I had a warmth within. I knew it was fast. It felt like I was floating. 11.49secs new WR. And went on to break the 200m and high jump. 6 out of 6. That was it for me so I thought, I was getting tired after that of the training and had to ease off. 2018 was, more of an experiment to see what a transplant patient could do I the masters races. Different and really got the word out about what you can do after a transplant. At my first British masters I came away with a gold medal in the high jump and a bronze in the long jump. Amazing year. 2019 Newcastle World Championships aim was to break the 400m WR and get the set. Problem was I damaged my knee and needed and operation. On crutches till February. It was a tough ask. I broke myself weekly in training. Cried in front of my coach once because of the pain. Pressure was on. And I’m one tough cookie when it comes to achieving my goals. 55.24 seconds 400m WR awesome! 6 golds and a trophy for outstanding athlete. Almost like dejavou,
Since then I’ve taken a back step what with covid also the odd stair marathon, maybe an ironman again I’m not sure. I’m coaching athletes locally helping individuals here and there, including several transplant patience that want to do well in athletics. Not sure what the next page will bring. I’m full of surprises. And I love the impossible.

Jennifer Valente Caywood, Tucson, AZ, Organ Recipient

I’m a heart and kidney recipient from May of 2018. I had kidney cancer when I was four years old, all of my left and part of my right kidneys were removed. I had 18 months of chemotherapy and 6 months of radiation treatment which thankfully got rid of the cancer but left my heart badly damaged. Growing up I was always quite a bit weaker than the other kids. When I was 19 I was told that I was in heart failure and I had a stroke from blood clots that formed in my weakened heart. That heart and the little piece of kidney lasted for 25 more years at which point I had a heart attack and the heart drastically declined. At 43 I very gratefully received a heart and a kidney from a young man who was a donor. I am so thankful for him and for his family and for my doctors and for my family! My husband is now undergoing testing to become a living kidney donor.

Itziar Salas, León, Spain, Organ Recipient

Mi nombre es Itziar, hace un año que recibí mi nuevo corazón, gracias a la generosidad de mi ángel donante. Desde niña he convivido con una miocardiopatia hipertrofica obstructiva, a los 15 años llegó mi primer desfibrilador, al que yo odiaba, pero más tarde lo amé ya que me salvo la vida en cuatro ocasiones, si no fuera por él no habría llegado al día de hoy. Mi corazón empezó a estar muy débil y yo también, apenas podía caminar, comer, todo era una gran meta para mi. Después de 11 largos meses esperando, el día 4 de Octubre de 2019 recibí la mejor llamada de mi vida, ahí estaba mi corazón. Desde entonces, poco a poco y con esfuerzo, todo ha mejorado e incluso puedo hacer deporte, cosa que en mi vida hubiera imaginado, y aquí estamos con el reto 5k de los World Transplant Games. Los órganos no van al cielo, la vida vívela y después dónala. Puedes inscribirte en este reto en el siguiente enlace https://runsignup.com/Race/TX/AnyWay/5kAnyway?rsus=100-200-ee75b038-eec3-48cb-8d05-c7ef69380c93.

English Translation:

My name is Itziar, a year ago I received my new heart, thanks to the generosity of my donor angel. Since I have lived with an obstructive hypertrophic myocardiopathy since I was a child, at the age of 15 my first defibrillator arrived, which I hated, but later I loved it since it saved my life on four occasions, if it were not for the defibrillator, I would not have come to this day. My heart began to be very weak and I too, could barely walk, eat, everything was a great goal for me. After 11 long months waiting, on October 4, 2019 I received the best call of my life, there was my heart. Since then, little by little and with effort, everything has improved and I can even do sport, something that I would have imagined in my life, and here we are with the 5k challenge of the World Transplant Games. The organs do not go to heaven, life will live and then give it. You can sign up for this challenge at the following https link: https://runsignup.com/Race/TX/AnyWay/5kAnyway?rsus=100-200-ee75b038-eec3-48cb-8d05-c7ef69380c93.

David Burns, Santa Barbara, California, Organ Recipient

I recently celebrated a very happy and healthy five-year Transplantiversary. 

In 2014, I was struck with Stage 4 liver disease. After several months of intensive care and dozens of procedures to keep alive, I was given new life with a donated liver on January 26th, 2015. If it wasn’t for the amazing work of miracle doctors, nurses, staff at UCLA hospital, I would certainly not be with us today. If it wasn’t for the incredible prayers of my supportive family and friends the same would be true.

Today, I live in beautiful Santa Barbara, with a close network of family nearby. I also stay in close contact with my UCLA staff and doctors. I have two wonderful children Andrew and Eloise, who live in Fairfield, Connecticut. I happily travel monthly or more to visit them. 

Currently, I’m at full strength, playing tennis and swimming. I’m active in the Santa Barbara community. I work with the board of the Santa Barbara Tennis Patrons, who support and develop tennis for juniors in the community and make it a lifelong sports for all. I also direct junior novice local tournaments and coach the boys and girls high school tennis at San Marcos High School.

In my first year working on the board of the American Liver Foundation, I happily raised over $15,000 for the ALF Santa Monica liver walk. I’ve been on the board now for five years and have contributed successfully ever since.

I never take my life for granted. My five years of health have been a blessing. I will continue to celebrate my life by giving back and enjoying each and every day.

Davy Hobson, Tyler, TX, Organ Recipient

February 14, 2013, I arrived at UTSW and over the next few days experienced several cardiac arrests. Even with all the dying, God kept me alive to undergo a unique experiment never performed before by UT Southwestern Medical Center in placing two LVADS simultaneously in my chest so that I could make it to heart transplantation. After seven months in the hospital and with a new heart, I was able to return to my home in Tyler, Texas. I workout at Crunch Fitness three times a week and jog on the days between. I am very grateful to the team at UTSW and to all the transplant community for your encouragement and support!

Hermann Steyn, Cape Town, South Africa, Organ Recipient

Hermann Steyn is a husband and father from Somerset West, Western Cape, South Africa. He had end-stage cardiomyopathy and severe cardiomegaly (an enlarged heart), a life-threatening heart condition, caused by a heart attack in 2006. He was put onto the waiting list for a new heart in December 2010. “My life was a constant waiting game, hoping for the call to give me a new life.” The call that a donor’s heart was available came at the end of 2012 and he received his new heart the next day. Here is his story…

On 10 June 2006, I suffered two heart attacks, the second one complicated by seven episodes of cardiac arrest. A few months later, after a period of hospitalization for congestive heart failure, I underwent triple bypass surgery. After developing atrial fibrillation two months after the bypass, a biventricular pacemaker was inserted in March 2008. In July 2011 this was replaced with an ICD (Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator) which is a combined pacemaker/shock-box.

Things were stable until May 2010, when my heart muscle started to get progressively weaker and my condition gradually deteriorated to a point in October 2010 when my cardiologist told me that the only definitive procedure for me was a heart transplant. The cardiologist referred me to Dr Willie Koen, a heart transplant specialist at the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town and I was listed in December. Many patients and their families have described this time as the most difficult part of the transplant process. Denial, fear, anxiety, and uncertainty are normal reactions experienced by patients and their families. 

At this stage, my long term prognosis was poor. I was too fatigued to do much and had less and less energy. Simple things such as getting out of bed, taking a bath/shower or even walking were hard for me to do. I was struggling to breathe and to do ordinary, everyday things that most people take for granted. I felt that my life wasn’t in my own hands, and I kept my phone on me at all times, waiting for the call. At the end of 2012, I received a phone call from Dr Koen. He said, ‘The chances are good that we might have an early Christmas present for you’. I was speechless.

At 08:30 they wheeled me into the theatre and at 15:20 they wheeled me out with a NEW heart. I was doing well in the hospital and was released from the hospital 17 days after the transplant.
All of this has given me a renewed appreciation for my body, my life and has also helped shift my perspective. I am now living a full life again and I am the Executive Secretary of the South African Transplant Sports Association (SATSA) as well as the Chairman of the Western Cape region of SATSA. 

In 2015, I was selected to represent South Africa at the World Transplant Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina. I won a gold medal in the discus with a new world record and won a silver medal in the shot put in my age group. I was also the Team Manager of the team of 46 athletes. I was also selected for the South African team in 2017 for the World Games in Malaga, Spain and also again in 2019 to Newcastle, UK

I can’t thank my Creator enough and I thank the donor and my donor’s family for my Gift of Life and all my friends and family all over the world for their prayers.

Joao Julian Pareira Da Silva, South Africa, Organ Recipient

I was sick for most of my life, bad bladder from the start then kidney stones, cut a long story short ,I got a kidney transplant in 1999 April. I got my urostomy bag in 1960 or 1961. Life has been good with all my challenges. Thanks for all the support from family and transplant friends and Transplant Olympics

David Konvicka, Pearland, Texas, Organ Recipient

Kidney transplant in San Antonio at Texas Transplant Institute in 2016. So thankful for a living donor.

Paula Smith, Lethbridge, Alberta, Organ Recipient

“Your kidneys are only functioning at 12%. It’s time to start preparing for dialysis”.

I remember how frozen with shock I was when my doctor delivered me the news. I felt like I had just been handed a death sentence. Dialysis?! But I’m only 38! My mind flooded with thoughts. What will my life look like? How much longer have I got? How can I break this news to my family? Can I still work?

Fear of the unknown set in. I just sat there staring incredulously at my doctor as he rambled on about the next steps. Afterwards I went home and sat there in a daze processing the news. I refused to believe this was real. “This is all a bad dream. I’m gonna wake up soon…” I tried to convince myself. It was just too scary to deal with.

A few months later, still riding the roller coaster of denial-anger-bargaining-depression-acceptance, I was handed another whammy: my husband died suddenly of a heart attack, right in front of my eyes. Just like that, in an instant, I was left on my own to deal with the detritus that my life had suddenly become.

Reeling in shock I pushed on through the motions of funeral, legal paperwork, surgery, dialysis, grieving the loss of my husband (support system) and loss of my health (independence), all while handling a full time job so I could have a roof over my head. Internally I was a wreck – I no longer knew who I was or how I was still going. All my senses were impacted. Things that were once important to me now appeared to be trivial.

When I looked at myself in the mirror I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. I felt lost, numb. I had no identity. I struggled to grasp at my purpose and meaning and why this was all happening. “Who am I? Why am I here? and, What’s the meaning behind all this?” circulated through my mind unanswered for a very long time.

I journalled a lot, often early in the morning after a massive grief burst would wake me up. I had so many conflicting and overwhelming thoughts & emotions circulating my brain that needed to land onto paper just so I could take respite from myself.

I continued to move through the exhausting daily motions of grieve, eat, work, dialysis, sleep, repeat for a couple years. Eventually it took its toll on me and I had to stop working. My kidneys continued to deteriorate. I had less energy and my body was screaming at me to just stop. And so I did. And it was very hard to do, because I had pride. Pride in the role and the work that I did. But I knew I had to stop. I was literally working myself into the ground. The day I agreed to stop working was the day I felt as if 2 anvils had been lifted off my shoulders.

It was during this time of respite that I grieved even deeper and sought answers to my existence. I delved into journalling questioning my values, morals and identity. I joined a meditation group where I learned about stillness and mindfulness; self care and compassion. I made new friends who became great teachers to me. I went for counselling and became aware of my habits and thought patterns: the ones that helped me and the ones that hindered me. I learned the stages of forgiveness and radical acceptance. I had a thirst to shed the layers of misperceptions that had been holding me back from claiming my freedom. Freedom from my mind and the internal turmoil that often held me captive.

I started advocating for myself: as a candidate for a kidney transplant I was guided to canvas friends and family for a potential living kidney donation. This was completely outside my comfort zone but it helped me become more aware of myself. I gained more clarity of what I was made of and what made me tick. I could feel the old me peeling away slowly, like discarded skin. I was intentionally healing the past and embracing the now. And you know something? The more I chose to forgive and move forward, the more happiness and miracles I attracted into my life.

Before I knew it 3.5 years flew by since my journey had started. What had started out as a journey filled with grief and despair had transformed into one of self awareness, humility and gratitude. I was acknowledging, owning and forgiving my past. I was stepping into a new me that no longer felt lost. I had shifted my perception towards a new identity that felt redefined in a positive and meaningful, purposeful way. I was in love with life. With my life.

And in the midst of all this, a miracle happened. My brother offered me one of his kidneys. Before we knew it we were flying into Vancouver for the surgery & it was a huge success for both of us! Our doctors beamed with joy as they described how well the procedure went. I was in awe and amazed at the energy surging back into my body. I spent my time plotting how I was going to use this second chance to do something really meaningful. I was on top of the world! I’m going to live! Even today, words cannot describe the deep appreciation and humility I feel as I reflect on my brothers selfless act, born out of unconditional love and concern for his sister.

Months later while reflecting on my journey, my councellor said to me with a wry smile “funny how your body heals when you choose to heal your mind, hmmm?!”

Eventually I returned to work after being off on disability for over 2 years. I was ready for that stability and routine back in my life again. One day during meditation I heard a calling to go work with the bereaved. I knew what I had to do next and volunteered for the local hospice society. I had learned a lot on my personal journey and wanted to give something back. Through the hospice society I learned the nuances of compassionate companioning: creating a safe container for those in need so they could safely feel and express whatever was coming up for them in the moment without being judged.

Once again, being willing to learn something new I was able to discover deeper layers to who I was becoming, what I was made of, and what made me tick.

I had a deep passion to hold space for others and create meaningful conversations to help guide them forward. I signed up to learn the art and science of life coaching with world renowned Erickson’s Coaching International. I learned how to walk along side others to help them explore deep values, identify blocks and shift perception to a solution focused mind set.

These techniques coupled with my personal life experience have enabled me to walk beside others as they step forward into a brighter future. The human spirit is indomitable and it is always an honor to bear witness to another’s journey.
http://www.thriversunite.com

Aris Jan van Ek, Netherlands, Organ Recipient

In 1988 I received my kidney transplant after only three months of dialyses. I was ill from childhood until after 27 years my kidneys failed. So I was a very lucky guy then. I married and got 3 children. It was only after 10 years that I started to exercise. I read about the Transplant Games of 1997 and started swimming in a local team. After my first games I kept on training. In 2008 I also started running and participated in the road run at the WTG. In 2014 I also did my first 1/8th triathlon. I always believed exercise and training would help to stay healthy and would reduce the negative side effects of the medication I had to take. In 2018 I got severe skincancer and had surgery in march 2019. Now I am almost two years cancer free and my transplant is slowly giving up. The last two years were hard, being ill most of the time it is hard to keep on exercising. Every two steps forward were followed by one step back. Starting on zero every two or three months. Now I am training again on my rowing machine and walking my steps every day. As we go on route for a second transplant. I am confident I will be back an track somewhere next year.

Luke Herlihy, Ireland, Organ Recipient

I got one of my Dads kidneys in 2017, and I’ve been to the winter transplant games in Anzere and Banff and I won the Nicolas Green Cup in February this year just before lock down. I’m in training now on my indoor bike as Ireland is in another lockdown. All the Best.

Fabiano Paratore, Switzerland, Organ Recipient

My name is Fabiano, I was born 38 years ago in Morges, in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland. I am married and have twin daughters who are almost six years old.

I have been working since the age of 16 as a Plasterer-Painter in the family business, but had in 2015 because it was no longer compatible with my illness.

Read more of Fabiano‘s Story Here

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