Off to Transplant Games

World Transplant Games swimmer Lisa du Plessis wants to raise awareness about the importance of becoming an organ donor. She is pictured teaching stroke correction lessons in Claremont.
Wearing her Protea blazer, medals jangling, Plumstead swimmer Lisa du Plessis was part of a team of athletes who came third in the 20th World Transplant Games hosted in Mar Del Plata in Argentina in 2015.

Ms Du Plessis entered and qualified for four swimming events and won four gold medals for South Africa and broke three world records (“Transplant games victory celebrated”, Bulletin, September 10, 2015).

Glowing with pride, she entered the arrivals hall at Cape Town International Airport to find no fanfare and no-one there to greet the athletes. South Africa was placed third out of 44 countries and brought home 89 medals, 41 gold, 24 silver and 24 bronze. Ms Du Plessis went on to become sportswoman of the year.

Now, 18 Western Cape athletes are preparing to take part in the bi-annual World Transplant Games in Malaga, Spain, from Sunday June 25 to Sunday July 2. Unlike other sports that receive corporate sponsorship, these athletes must raise funds themselves.

Mike Chowles, assisted by Kelly Russell and Nicky Wickham, are holding a fund-raising dance on Friday April 7 to cover the costs of Ms Du Plessis’ trip to Spain. “It’s an evening of dancing to all the old tunes and there will be raffles with some great prizes. Why don’t you join us,” asks Mr Chowles.

Ms Du Plessis, 45, is a stroke correction teacher at Swim Smart in Claremont and a member of Cape Town Masters. She had a kidney transplant in 2013 after being diagnosed with renal failure in 2006. “It was touch and go,” said Ms Du Plessis last week.

Her sister, Sharon Lloyd, from Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, was found to be a match.

Now her goal is not only to swim for her country but also to promote organ donation.

“People were stunned when they heard that Sharon was willing to donate a kidney. God gave us two so we can give one away,” she says, laughing.

On a more serious note, she described the transplant games as an emotional event. “It’s very big, very different to swimming in a master’s race, the stories shared, very deep,” she says.

Ms Du Plessis has always been a swimmer and enjoyed team sports and netball – and is competitive in nature, she says.

This is paramount to her success and motivation because training is tough

In October 2016 she went to Johannesburg where she qualified for the five races she wants to participate in: 50m breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly; 100m backstroke and freestyle. She re-qualified again in March at her home training swimming pool at Constantia.

From Friday to Sunday March 24 to 26, she went to Bloemfontein to attend the first training camp and was given her ticket to leave for Spain on Saturday June 24. But everything is self-funded.

Chairman of the South African Transplant Sports Association (SATSA), Stan Henkeman, who lives in Diep River, says the cost to attend the games is about R31 500 an athlete. This includes travel, accommodation, transport in Malaga, all meals and participation in the various sporting codes. It does not include clothing, with the cost to new athletes being about R3 500.

He says Ms Du Plessis is receiving a subsidy from Satsa and the Department of Sport but needs to raise an additional R15 000. “South Africa may be ranked third in the world but because of our location it makes travel costs high”, he says.

Mr Henkeman says the objective of Satsa and that of the Western Cape Transplant Sports Association (WCTSA) is also to create awareness around organ donation.

“Transplant recipients are those who have received solid organ transplants, such as hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs, pancreases and also bone marrow (stem cells),” he says. Mr Henkeman adds that athletes do not participate in any contact sports due to them having had an organ transplant.

Samantha Nicholls of the Organ Donor Foundation says currently there are more than 4 300 adults and children awaiting organ and cornea transplants in South Africa, of which fewer than 600 will receive a transplant. The average waiting time for a kidney transplant is five to eight years if a patient does not have a family member who is a suitable match and is willing to donate.

Ms Nicholls says an organ donor can save the lives of up to seven people with their solid organs and you can improve the quality of life of up to 50 more people with your tissue – skin, bone, corneas and heart valves.

“It’s a gift that keeps on giving, a way that someone can continue living through someone else,” says Mr Henkeman.

* Dance the Night Away takes place tomorrow, Friday April 7, from 7pm to midnight, at Bergvliet Sports Club in Children’s Way, Bergvliet. Entry is R50 each. There will be a cash bar, snacks on sale or you can take your own refreshments. For further information contact mikechowles@gmail.com

* For more about SATSA contact Stan Henkeman at 083 345 4615 or http://transplantsports.org.za/

More about transplants

To ensure successful transplantation, it is essential that organs are removed as soon as possible after brain death has been declared.

Legislation requires brain death to be certified by two independent doctors.

In the case of tissue, a donation can take place up to a few days after death. Many people die at work or on the roads and never make it to the hospital. In such instances an organ donation would not be possible, however, a tissue donation, which is equally needed and valuable, can be successfully carried out.

Once brain death is certified, the medical professionals will approach the family for consent for the organs / tissue to be removed and then the necessary tests are conducted – evaluating medical and social history, blood and culture tests and physical examination. The donor and potential recipients are then matched, the organs are removed and implanted into the recipient.

To become a donor, call the Organ Donor Foundation toll free line 0800 22 66 11; visit www.odf.org.za; it is simple, costs nothing and only takes a few minutes.