TRANSPLANT GAMES: GOALS AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Founded in 1978, it now has 76 member countries. Each of these hold a national sports event in which all the competitors are the recipients of kidney, liver, heart and/or lungs, pancreas or a combination of all these organ transplants (including bone marrow). The majority of countries each send a representative national team of varying numbers to the world transplant games, an event planned to take place every 2 years in different parts of the world. The enunciated goal remains unchanged. The aim and purpose is:
To increase organ donation by involving the public and to increase knowledge, perception, sympathy and support for that unselfish gift of life .
To use physical exercise to effectively rehabilitate patients who have been physically and mentally debilitated by long term chronic illness.
Our success rate in increasing organ donation and thus transplantation varies in different venues, but has consistently averaged 30%. That percentage is much higher in economically developing countries with a low base line and lower in developed countries with high base line. The competitors are both sexes. They compete in age categories, which begin at 5 and include the over 80’s.
Competition in track events, running, jumping, swimming, as well as tennis and golf and a variety of other sports is fierce but friendly. One is aware of the camaraderie engendered by the shared experience of a long or short-term debilitating illness from which they have made a splendidly visible recovery. In 1974 I was appointed Transplant Surgeon at the Wessex Transplant Unit based at St Mary’s Hospital Ports- mouth. As in all other Units in the UK, there was a dearth of donors. The next of kin of a deceased potential kidney donor were either not asked or refused to grant the necessary permission for organ donation. The cause of the fatal injury was usually a severe road traffic accident followed by unsuccessful resuscitation treatment in one of the six hospital intensive care Units in the Wessex region.
In Portsmouth, at that time, only 19 patients each year were fortunate to receive a kidney, mostly from a close relative. More than 100 were receiving life supporting haemodialysis three times a week for eight hours each time. Clearly, somehow or other, we had to inform, enlist and convince the people in our Wessex domain -which included most of Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset and Channel Islands- some 1.6 million people-that kidney donation was worth doing. How to generate such a message was a consistent question in my mind.
As is often the case, an attractive possibility presented itself by chance in my outpatient session at St Mary’s Hospital Portsmouth in December 1976. I was reviewing a 23 year old Jersey policeman (Mr G.M.) who had been on haemodialysis for 18 months and hated it. He spent 6-8 hours 3 days a week on haemodialysis. He felt unwell the day before dialysis and the day immediately after each dialysis and was unable to play football. In addition, he had an ongoing relationship with a young lady and felt he was not able to do what was required.
In fact, quietly, without much emotion he told me that he considered 'doing away with himself ’.
I was much moved by GM’s plea and a few days later managed to get a spot on the Southampton BBC tele-vision programme. I repeated his plea and begged for next of kin permission should an appropriate situation, with its always present grief and sensitivity, arise at any of the Wessex hospital intensive care units. It did. Just three days later I performed a transplant on GM with a kidney from a recently deceased donor after that donor had sadly sustained a fatal road traffic accident and permission was given by his grief stricken but generous family. Some four months later, when reviewing GM in my outpatients, I asked how things were. He was enjoying life. Things were absolutely splendid. He was, he said, a new man. He was now playing football and happily back at work and his performance domestically was very satisfactory to all concerned.
I suggested that GM join me in a six mile run at a nearby country club where we were hosting a transplant coordinators conference . GM had no difficulty in keeping up with me. I felt sure there must be other kidney graft recipients world-wide who had similarly benefited from a successful kidney transplant in their centre .This was confirmed enthusiastically by colleagues in France USA Mexico and Israel who promised a team. With the help of 4 stalwart Portsmouth based individuals-Brian Hall-City Director ,David Oliver Solicitor, Orien Young International Athlete and Michael Whiteside Kidney Transplant Recipient -an executive team was formed which endured more than 35 years. 40 years later the World Transplant Games Federation, has 76 member countries who have their own national games as well as taking part in a global 2 yearly event which has spanned all 5 continents and has more than 2000 competitors . They are the grateful active recipients of a variety of organs are supported by an active donor association who are left in no doubt with regards to the esteem and gratitude of their gift of life. Following my active retirement in 2005 first Olivier Coustere of France and now the innovative Chris Thomas of Australia lead the organization. The goals remain and the achievements showing consistent positive increase in organ transplantation and physical and mental benefit to the participants heath are studiously documented.
BBC News coverage of the transplant games:
M.S. Transplant Surgeon G.M. Kidney Transplant recipient