Living the dream... meet our heroes of transplant games
The mother of a teenage boy born with kidney failure has spoken of her pride at her son overcoming the odds and "living his life to the full".
Aaron Browne (17) from south Belfast is part of a team of six children from the province competing at the UK Transplant Games in Bolton – it will be his 10th appearance at the Games.
But his parents had worried Aaron may never have reached such a goal.
Stephen and Arlene Browne were told he'd be born needing kidney dialysis, and then a new organ to survive.
He was delivered nine weeks prematurely by emergency Caesarean section. His lungs collapsed and he was also diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
After undergoing hundreds of hours of dialysis at hospital three days a week he finally received a new kidney aged seven, thanks to his mum.
Arlene gave her son the gift of life for the second time, "transforming" his life.
This year he will join hundreds of other athletes in Bolton for the Games, which end on Sunday.
He is part of a team of 35 – six children and 29 adults – from here competing in the four-day event.
All have been given a new organ by a loved one, family member, or complete stranger who wanted to save a life after theirs had ended.
Their aim is to showcase the life-changing benefits of organ donation and transplantation.
Aaron will compete in 10 pin bowling, 100m track and the ball throw events.
His mother says she is "overwhelmed and proud" of her son.
"When he was born we weren't given much hope, his prognosis was not good at all," she explained.
"It was like night and day when he finally got the new kidney.
"He always liked to kick a ball like any other little boy, but after the transplant he just got a new lease of life."
She said her family were filled with pride watching him compete.
"I think it will be the final year of him being involved in the children's games, which makes it even more special.
"But it just shows how important organ donation is. It really does give life to people."
Experiencing his first Transplant Games is 10-year-old Calvin Bradshaw.
He received a transplant last January after his father James donated a kidney.
His mum Amanda explained he was diagnosed with renal problems at the age of two-and-a-half.
"We always knew he would need a transplant, we just didn't know when," she said.
"We always said we didn't want to undergo dialysis and they suggested the live donation. Me and his daddy were a match."
James duly donated his kidney to his son.
"It was a worrying time but afterwards we found out about the Games and it is just wonderful for him to meet other children who had gone through the same thing," added Amanda.
More than 200 people in Northern Ireland are currently waiting for an organ transplant.
And around 15 people here die every year while waiting for a suitable donor.
Janet Coleman (50), Great Britain and Northern Ireland Transplant Games swimming coach, said the main aim behind the games was to celebrate life.
As a kidney transplant recipient and a former World Transplant Games Champion, she knows how important it is not just to win– but to be able to take part.
"It is not just about the winning. These games are a celebration of being alive.
"Basically, all the people who are at the Games should not be here. We are all so lucky to be alive," she said.
Athletes keen to make most of their second chance
An inspirational group of men and women from Northern Ireland who have beaten the odds after undergoing an organ transplant are part of the team competing in the UK Transplant Games. Among the 29 men and women from the province who have travelled to Bolton to celebrate what can be achieved when people are given the gift of life are:
Marie Devine (49) from Bangor, Co Down, received a new kidney in 2004 — it was her second kidney transplant after the first was rejected. She will be competing in the 3k run, 1500m, 400m, 800m, 100m relay.
Marie, who completed the London Marathon this year, said: “I didn’t come from much of a sporting background; athletics was completely new to me after my transplant but immediately I was eager to do anything I could to raise awareness of transplants and donations.
“Last year I was lucky enough to be selected for the World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa. I came away with three gold, two silver and a bronze medal, and so I’m hoping I can live up to that this time and hopefully be selected again for the World Games.
“Training can be tough but I enjoy it; you just make it a way of life and put your heart and soul into it. Raising awareness of donations is so important. I’m here today because of my transplant.”
Kathryn Glover (33) from Ballygowan underwent a kidney transplant in 2009. She will be hoping for a medal in the 50m breaststroke, 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle. Kathryn will also be competing in the tennis and discus.
“As a youngster I was pretty sporty. Now, being a primary school teacher, I’m giving it a go again,” she said. “2014 marks my third Games, and I’m hoping this will be the year I qualify for the Worlds next year.
“It’s vital to raise awareness about transplants. After the 2011 games in Belfast the percentage of people on the organ donation list in Northern Ireland went up, this is brilliant news and we only want to better that.”
Gavin Shields from Enniskillen received a new kidney in January 2011. Hailed as ‘one to watch’ at the Games, he will be competing in the 18-29 age group in 100m, 200m, 4x100m relay and long jump.
“This is my first Games since 2011, but the two-year gap has made me even more excited to attend this year and hopefully bring home some silverware to Northern Ireland.
“Training for such a big event is a lot harder than you think but we’re all doing it for the same cause, to raise awareness of organ donation. The only reason we’re all here is through organ donation and transplants.”
Karen Keery from Bangor received a life-saving kidney from her sister in 2012. She’s set to run the 5km and compete in the 50m swim.
“Although this is my first year competing at the Games, I did volunteer at the 1998 Games in Belfast shortly after my diagnosis to really do anything I could to help make people realise how important organ donation is. The kidney transplant I received from my sister has completely changed my life and my attitude towards life. From barely being about to walk without getting dead legs after the transplant, I am now competitively running and swimming which is incredible and something I would have never thought possible just two years ago.”
Andrew Weir (53) chairman of Transplant Sport NI, is the longest surviving bone marrow recipient here and is competing in the golf, and 50m and 100m breaststroke.
“The Games are, and have been for the last 10 years, extremely close to my heart. This is my 10th year at the Games so although I look forward to the event every year, this is a particularly special year for me.
“There are so many people waiting on transplants which will ultimately decide if they can continue with life, and I cannot stress enough the importance of getting that message out there.”