Transplant recipients shed light on importance of healthy lifestyle in transplantation journey

One morning several years ago Madrid native Fran Sanz, 28, got up, took a shower and ate breakfast. It was a typical start to the day. What he did next, however, was anything but typical.

Over the following 12 hours, Fran competed in the Ironman competition, swimming 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles), bicycling 180 kilometers (112 miles) and running 42 kilometers (26.1 miles). While that would be considered an extraordinary physical feat for anyone, for Fran it had a deeper meaning. It had only been seven years since he had become a kidney transplant recipient, following his diagnosis of glomerulonephritis interstitial, a kidney disorder, at age 17. And here he was, the youngest transplant recipient ever to finish the Ironman.

“How do I, a 29-year-old woman with a kidney transplant, keep fit? I pray, laugh, train my mind and train my body every day, as any other person does, but within myself I’m living harder, stronger and happier because I know I’ve received a second chance, and I decided to make it AWESOME!”
Suretha Maartens, 29, kidney recipient, Fit for Life! ambassador, South Africa

“Recipients,” he says, “are experts at falling and rising stronger.”

More than 100,000 people worldwide receive transplants every year, according to the World Health Organization1. Each one of them has dealt with a medical condition that led to a transplant. And each has responded afterward in his or her own way. For many, that’s through participating in sports and exercise. That’s why the World Transplant Games Federation initiated Fit for Life!, a global program supported by Astellas that helps transplant recipients live full and active lives through ongoing physical activity and participation in organized sports.

Fran and others who have received transplants say that not only is it an honor to participate in athletics, given where they came from, but, more importantly, that their participation is in honor of those who donated the organs that gave them the chance to do it. 

Like Fran, Ronald Grainger, 66, a retired surgeon from Dublin who was diagnosed with a kidney disorder at 32 and was a transplant recipient at 53, says he expresses his own appreciation by working as hard as he can to stay healthy – “to protect the gift I’ve been given.”

While keeping fit is important for his own health, Ronald notes, he hopes he can inspire others by keeping fit. He competed at the European Transplant and Dialysis games in Vantaa, Finland, including the 100- and 200-meter dash, long jump, ball throw and 4 x 100 meter relay.

“We, the transplanted, reflect the love and altruism of thousands of people who work in this process – donors, families, doctors, nurses and administrators, among others.”
Carolina Vargas Ropero, 33, kidney and pancreas recipient, Fit for Life! ambassador, Colombia

“While being successful in competition in the Games was great,” Ronald says, “what was even greater was being part of a team of people who were joyful to be well enough to compete and, in so doing, raise awareness of organ donation and honor those from whom we had received organs.”

Ashleigh Mounger, 28, of South Carolina, United States, double majored in exercise science and psychology in college and was able to put these two disciplines to use for herself and others after her liver transplant in 2015, a response to a rare metabolic condition called Wilson’s disease. “It’s so important to educate and encourage yourself to push past what you think your limits are, as well as to encourage others to do the same,” she says.

With that in mind, only three weeks after her transplant, Ashleigh walked in a 5K race, the beginning of what she calls her “healthy lifestyle journey.” “Our heroes said ‘yes’ to organ and tissue donation so that we could live,” she says. “So let’s honor those gifts and wear our scars with pride by staying active and eating healthy.”

Fran, Ronald and Ashleigh have more in common than being transplant recipients and being star athletes. They are among the 13 ambassadors of Fit for Life!, which encourages post-transplant health and wellness and stresses physical activity for transplant recipients. Late last year, these ambassadors gathered at the Astellas-sponsored New Zealand All Blacks and Irish Rugby Football Union international rugby match at Chicago’s Soldier Field to highlight their commitment and raise awareness. It was at the match that Astellas, in collaboration with Donate Life America, tripled the previous GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for online organ donor registrations in an eight-hour period.  This year, the Fit for Life! program will be featured at the World Transplant Games taking place in Málaga, Spain from June 25 – July 2, 2017.

“Through exercise and competing in the Games, I learned what was possible once I believed in my potential. The true value lies beyond breaking records, but in helping others to realize what can be achieved if they, too, believe.”
Montague Summers, 27, bone marrow recipient, Fit for Life! ambassador, Australia

As part of its more than 20 year commitment to changing the transplantation journey by raising awareness, Astellas supports multiple organizations across the globe including:

  • Chris Klug Foundation, which every year equips tens of thousands of young people in the U.S. with facts about organ donation
  • Japan Organ Transplant Network’s Green Ribbon campaign, which raises awareness in Japan about issues related to organ transplantation
  • Transplant Games in countries around the world, which enable organ donation recipients to highlight their physical accomplishments post-transplant
  • The University Hospital Foundation, Alberta Economic Development and Trade, with whom Astellas recently announced a new research and innovation partnership aimed at improving the care available to transplant patients

“It’s important not to underestimate the implications of being confident enough to be involved in sports and physical activity during and after serious illnesses,” says Matthew Field, 29, from New Zealand, also a Fit for Life! ambassador. “This makes programs like Fit for Life! and the Transplant Games all the more special as they get people involved no matter their level of skill, experience, fitness or social status.”
Despite his extraordinary physical accomplishments, Ironman Fran Sanz maintains that “true success is not crossing the finish line.” Instead, he says, it’s the everyday fight to overcome our personal challenges. “I want to be an inspiration through sports to the patients that are waiting for a transplant, and show to them the extraordinary life ahead.”

“I’m active in spreading the magnificence of organ transplantation through sports to many people, and continue to exercise reasonably using the kidney my mother graciously donated to me.”
Hitoshi Totsuka, 47, kidney recipient, Fit for Life! ambassador, Japan

 

1 World Health Organization (2016). Care After Kidney Transplant. Retrieved November 10, 2016 from: http://www.transplant-observatory.org