Next month more than 1,000 athletes will arrive in Birmingham for four days of sporting activities from athletics to darts, swimming to volleyball, cycling to tennis and more. These are no ordinary athletes: they are transplant athletes, people who have received heart, lung, liver, kidney, pancreas, small bowel and bone marrow transplants or are currently on dialysis as they wait for a new kidney. The British Transplant Games was first held in 1978 and is making its third return to the West Midlands, hosted this year at the University of Birmingham.
My last full time clinical role was a transplant coordinator in the early 90's based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, home to the largest number of organ transplant programmes in the world. It was an awesome job! In 1991, when I first started, there were only two of us and as well as supporting the people hoping to receive a transplant, I had the absolute privilege of meeting many inspiring donor families - bereaved relatives who at the time of great sadness following the unexpected death of a loved one were carrying out wishes to donate their loved ones' organs. It takes just 2 minutes to register your wishes.
Our role was to provide clinical expertise, leadership, coaching and support to the three key partners who make this medical marvel a reality. Firstly, the donor: by caring for their organs after the person had died so that transplantation could take place. Secondly, the donor's family who will most likely have waved that person happily off on their way to work or school in the hours or days before, only to now be facing a future without them. Thirdly the hospital staff who may have been part of the team working to save that person's life on admission to hospital, and now working with us to ensure the person and their family's wishes are carried out professionally and compassionately.
Back then we also worked with the transplant teams to prepare people with organ failure for the potential of a new organ. We supported them whilst on the transplant list, and then called them to say "can you come to the hospital tonight, we think we have a match".
Going on to take part in the Transplant Games is a significant step in most recipients' recovery and rehabilitation, even if it's to cheer others on from the stands. It's no surprise, as the games are in Birmingham, that this year will see the greatest number of competitors for the Birmingham Adult Transplant Sports Team, with more than 100 entries. Some are taking part for the first time, because they only received their transplant within the last year, or they have decided that a home games is the year to give it a go! Others have competed for years, each and every year, like Derek who at 82 is focused on gaining his 113th medal! You can keep track of their stories at the games by following them on their twitter account
This year is particularly exciting as the Guinness World Records has accepted the application for challenging the largest gathering of organ transplant recipients - to be counted at the athletes' parade during the Opening Ceremony on Thursday 2nd August. I am excited to be joining the 'counting team' for this challenge having been asked by Lynne Holt, from Transplant Sport and also former transplant coordinator who I worked with back in the day too.
Other than seeing the young children with feeding lines flapping as they run down the athletics track as fast as their little legs will carry them, the most emotional event is the Donor Run 2018. On Saturday 4th August transplant athletes, those awaiting a transplant, families, their supporters and friends stand side-by-side with the families of donors for the first time at the event.
Now this really is #PoweredByTheGiftOfLife!
"Transplantation is life saving and life enhancing for the vast majority of people and it is a real pleasure to see this in action at the British Transplant Games. Competitors from our Birmingham Adult transplant Sports Team are living proof of lives transformed by transplantation, made possible by the amazing generosity of organ donors" Dr Adnan Sharif , a kidney doctor at University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and also the medical director for the games.