Imagine the trauma of discovering that your body isn’t functioning properly, that you need an organ transplant. Then imagine the transplant is a success. What would you do with your second chance?
These three women have gone from regular sports-lovers to participating in the World Transplant Games – an insane life change. Here are their stories…
Lisa du Plessis, Swimmer
“I swam in the school team,” begins Lisa, “and competed in galas. I got my SA biathlon colours in high school.” But in 2006, Lisa was diagnosed with renal failure. She needed surgery and a new kidney, stat. Her sister-in-law, Sharon, was a match. “It was a success and the kidney took immediately.” The surgery was followed by a 13-day recovery period in the hospital, and a six-month follow-up: “My specialist, Dr Miller, was delighted with my results and my kidney function as a whole.”
Getting Back In The Game
“I started swimming eight weeks after surgery,” Lisa says. “Exercise is a must post-surgery and I love the sport.” Lisa is a member of the SA Transplant team and has taken part at two World Transplant Games. “In Spain, I swam five events (five being the limit), won five medals and broke five world records,” she says. If that’s not a come-back, I don’t know what is. She also won the award for the Most Outstanding Senior Female Athlete at the Games.
“I CrossFit train twice a week and try to fit in two to three swimming sessions as well,” adds Lisa, and as any training athlete would do, she tries to stick to a balanced diet. Around this busy exercise programme, Lisa teaches swimming at the newly launched Chad le Clos Academy in Claremont.
Rentia Le Roux, Track And Field
“Although I did all kinds of sport at school, I never competed in athletics,” says Rentia. Fast-forward to 2016 and Rentia’s very first World Transplant Games, where she won three medals in various track and field divisions.
“As soon as I was diagnosed with kidney failure,” says Rentia, “my eldest sister Carolyn said she’d like to be tested first as a possible donor.” She was a perfect match. A date was set, but Rentia’s health deteriorated faster than anticipated. “My creatine levels shot up rapidly… I had to have a catheter placed in my chest to have dialysis done.”
The kidney transplant was successful. “I was put on very little medication because Carolyn was such a perfect match,” says Rentia, “which isn’t very common, even in twins.” Twelve days after the surgery, she was released.
Back On Track
Rentia came across the South African Transplant Sport Association (SATSA) on social media and asked to become a member. In 2014 she competed at her first National Games in Stellenbosch.
In 2016, at the next National Games, she registered for the 5km road race, javelin, ball throw and 100m sprints, and went on to qualify for Protea colours and made it onto the SA team for the World Transplant Games in Spain, 2017.
“I train with Evan Fredericks, my personal trainer at Virgin Active Cape Gate, twice a week for an hour. He focuses on strength, endurance and flexibility.” Rentia spends the other three days of the week on cardio, and track and field training.
“The World Transplant Games was such an awesome experience for me,” says Rentia. It’s emotional too – there’s a big focus placed on the donors who have saved the lives of the athletes and allowed them to be there.
“The South African Transplant Sport Association are all a family, celebrating life every day through participating in sport – something most of us wouldn’t have been able to do if it weren’t for our transplants,” Rentia says. She won three medals in Spain: bronze for 100m sprints, bronze for 4x100m ladies’ relay team and gold for ball throw.
Vivian De Klerk, Cycling
“I cycled casually before my transplant, but never competed in any events,” begins Vivian…
In 2008, Vivian was diagnosed with a life-threatening bone marrow disorder called paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH), a disease that attacks the red blood cells. “I was placed on the donor list,” Vivian says – none of her three brothers were matches. “After three years of waiting, a match was found in Germany. It was quite a complicated process as my tissue type is rare.”
On A Roll
“It took about 12 months after the transplant to regain my strength and health again,” says Vivian. “At my first Games in 2014, I entered the cycling event and qualified for the 2015 World Games in Argentina.” The cycling bug bit.
“I love mountain biking and try to ride at least twice a week,” Vivian says. About eight weeks before competing, Vivian packs her mountain bike away to avoid injury and trains with her road bike instead. “I don’t have a formal training programme or coach, but I do interval training, hills and distance to maintain general fitness.”
Vivian has competed at two World Games, the last being the 2017 Games in Spain. “I got silver in both the 5km time trial and road race cycling event,” begins Vivian, “a gold in javelin, bronze in long jump and a bronze for the women’s relay team.” Although she sees cycling as her primary sport, Vivian also competes in athletics.
Competing As A Transplant Athlete
It’s not all smooth sailing as a transplant athlete. “The meds we take, like any other medication, has side-effects,” begins Rentia. “I am fortunately on a low dosage and haven’t had any bad side-effects.” Lisa adds that the transplant athletes also suffer from fatigue when travelling.
Some of the anti-rejection meds lower the body’s immune system, making the athletes vulnerable. “We try to keep healthy and avoid high-risk places to avoid infections,” says Vivian.
But one feeling is unanimous: appreciation in getting a second chance. “We all know how blessed we are to compete at the Games. It’s great to see how each athlete appreciates and celebrates their second chance at life,” concludes Vivian.