Generosity Games Celebrate the Gift of Life

With 428 participants from 22 European countries this year’s Heart Lung Transplant games took place in Vaxjo, Sweden. Remarkably, 223 of the medalists were athletes who have returned to health and fitness following transplants.

During the games, 270 gold medals, 180 silver medals and 130 bronze medals where handed out for superb athletic achievements that are themselves minor miracles. Many of the competitors have been given the chance of a new lease of life from dedicated medical staff and the selflessness of donors’ families, coupled with their own determination and passion for life. For them, the operations are life changing and the games are a celebration of their new opportunities.

The British team consisted of 40 participants and 27 transplanted competitors. This year 17-year-old Jade Carr was awarded the medal for best female athlete of the games. Teijo Hietanen from Finland won the honour of the best male athlete. Viktor Magnusson, project manager for the games said: ‘We are more than pleased. Everything worked well and the
weather was amazing.’

Below, UK athlete Justine Laymond, winner of 1 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze medal, tells us about her personal achievements and experience at the games.

‘Woohoo! I’m alive and so proud to have recently
competed in The European Heart and Lung Transplant Games 2010 ñ but only due to a double-lung transplant saving my life in July 2006.

I suffered the rarest lung disease, called Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (Lam). I kept fighting for my life and trying to breathe each time my lung collapsed; a total of 15 times. I used to be on 24-hour oxygen and was also wheelchair bound. At one stage I ended up being induced into a coma after suffering with 3 lung collapses within a week and my family were rushed in to say goodbye to me.

This really was it, I didn’t want to die. I was frightened and thought I can’t go on like this anymore. I could barely breathe; I felt like I was going hollow and my body was evaporating. From the coma, I was asleep for 3 weeks and contracted MRSA, pseudomonas, an eye infection (that nearly left me blind), a urinary infection, and my body was shutting down. I was woken from my coma state and couldn’t comprehend who I was, where I was, or what had happened. I was unable to move, eat, talk, communicate and I could hear a machine breathing for me. This is where my battle started and never did I think that I would be able to walk again or do simple things like tying up my shoelaces.

However, I have just returned back from the Transplant Games with a medal in every sporting event I competed! My first ever gold medal in long jump and 4 silvers in Badminton single & doubles, 400m sprint, and the 100m relay race. Finally, a bronze medal in the 100m sprint.

I have trained a lot since my transplant and defied odds to keep off rejection and just recently celebrated my 4th year anniversary. My world has been turned around; every day for me is a bonus. I feel so happy to be alive and breathe freely, thanks to the kindness of my donor. The experience in Sweden was remarkable, meeting so many other transplanted people around Europe and make new friends. Being at the games is not just about entering the competitions, but enjoying the social aspect and enjoying the traditions of the city, Vaxjo. On one night, we were all treated to a ‘Mid-Summers Evening’ with traditional dancing, music and food.

It’s wonderful to be able to share my story and show how being on the Organ Donor Register really can save lives, and make a difference ñ like it did mine!’

Image: Top – Justine Laymond runs into the medals at the Vaxjo games. Bottom – Justine celebrates her wins for the UK team.
courtesy of Justine Laymond

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