Transplant Games heroes return to Northern Ireland with impressive medal haul
A team of young local heroes have returned to Northern Ireland from the British Transplant games with an impressive medal haul.
The eight team-mates aged between five and thirteen have all fought illnesses and had their lives changed by receiving kidney transplants.
With competitors ranging from knee-height to pensioners, the games have been held annually across the UK since 1978, with Birmingham playing host over the weekend. The competition is the flagship project of the charity Transplant Sport, which aims to raise awareness around the benefits of transplantation and encourage recipients to regain fitness.
Elizabeth McKenna, was in England supporting the team that included her five year-old son David, and hailed their six medal success as “amazing” and a “big achievement”, especially when some of the bigger hospitals had teams consisting of hundreds of children competing.
Speaking of her pride at the teams performance which turned out one gold, one bronze and four silver medals she said: “It’s emotional. You just cry when you see them competing; running or throwing or whatever they are doing. The games are great because they get to try their best as equals. On a day to day basis it’s a struggle to be normal and have normal lives for all these kids. They’ve done so well”.
As a parent, she says it’s not just the medal success that made the trip so worthwhile for the children.
“It’s the social aspect too, to become closer friends with all the other kids. They usually only get to see each other when they are sick or getting treatment”, she said.
James Neuberger, of Transplant Sport said: “The Games were a huge success with a record number of participants. The purpose is to celebrate organ donation, support recipients, donors and donor families and, by showing the success of Transplantation, encourage everyone to think about organ donation and tell their families their wishes. I congratulate the Belfast teams for their success and commitment.”
Looking back on the success of the trip for the kids and their families, Elizabeth McKenna says she hopes to return with her son next year when the games are held in Newport. Belfast Children’s Hospital sends a team every year but apart from accommodation, which was funded by Kidney Care UK this year, there is no other funding or sponsorship for the team, something Elizabeth McKenna would like to see change in coming years:
“It’s more about organ donation awareness, but if someone could sponsor the team in future it would be great, even for team kits,” she said.
Elizabeth’s son David received a kidney from his father Jim in August 2016, but the proud mother knows her son and many of the others on the team will need “at least two more in their lifetime”.
That is why she is keen to highlight the importance of the games in raising awareness around organ donation and its benefits to so many lives, young and old, including the 82 year-old man she saw competing over the weekend.
This week the government announced Max’s Law, radical new legislation that could save 700 more lives per year by changing the current system of organ donation consent in England to an opt-out, rather than opt-in model. The law is named after ten year-old Max Johnson, who was saved by a heart transplant.
The Department of Health and Social Care added: "The proposed new system is expected to come into effect in England in spring 2020 as part of a drive to help people waiting for a life-saving transplant. There will be a 12-month transition period to allow time for discussion with friends and family about organ donation preferences”.
Belfast Telegraph Digital