Life after transplant: the World Transplant Games come to Newcastle-Gateshead

Written by News, Sport

In just over a week, Newcastle will be host to over 3000 athletes from 60 different countries, all here to compete in the World Transplant Games.

The World Transplant Games will take place in Newcastle and Gateshead this summer. The Paralympic-style, international sporting event is the largest of its kind dedicated entirely to athletes who have received life-saving organ transplants.

The bi-annual occasion, which takes place 17-24 August, at six venues across the area, as well as by the world-famous Newcastle Quayside, will see over 3000 people between the ages of four and eighty compete in a range of sports events.

Athletes are only eligible to compete if they have received an organ, tissue or cell transplant after which they have required immunosuppressive drug therapy – drugs that purposely supress the body’s immune system in order to avoid rejection of the transplant. Patients have to take these drugs daily for the rest of their lives to survive after transplantation.

It will be the first time the Games have taken place on English soil since 1995

The Games, which have taken place in countries all over the world in previous years, will this year be happening in sporting facilities across Newcastle and Gateshead. It will be the first time the Games have taken place on English soil since 1995.

Established in the 1978, the first Games were held in Portsmouth, England with only 99 athletes, all from the UK, France, Greece, Germany and the USA, participating. Now, 41 years later, the 2019 Games will be the host to approximately 3000 athletes from over 60 countries, including China, Colombia and India.

Unique to this exciting sporting fixture that happens every two years is that all the athletes will have at one time required a new organ to survive. This could have included a heart, liver, lungs, kidney, pancreas or other form of cell or tissue.

Simon Ripley, 35, from Darlington, will be competing at his second Wold Transplant Games this year.

Local athlete Simon Ripley Image: Simon Ripley

The British born athlete, who will be cycling as a representative of Team GB, underwent a heart transplant 12 years ago after suffering childhood leukaemia that lead to heart failure when he was just 23 years old. He recalls the time: “I came to realise when playing football that I was struggling to breathe, so I took myself to A&E where extensive checks were carried out and I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy”.  Cardiomyopathy is a severe and degenerative disease of the heart muscle that in many cases leads to heart failure.

Now recovered from his ordeal, Simon is no stranger to competing, having won two bronze medals in cycling and one silver in javelin during the last World Transplant Games that took place in South Africa, as well as over 30 medals at the 10 British Transplant Games he has attended and 12 medals at the European Games which he has participated in four times. Throughout his shining career as a transplant athlete, Simon has won a grand total of eught gold medals but stresses that he doesn’t compete for the titles. He says: “It is not about winning medals, it is about getting the message across that there is life after transplant and sport is a great way to do that”.

It is going to be a week to remember for Simon: “I am really excited about the games and I feel it’s going to be a bit emotional for me and my family. I had treatment for leukaemia in Newcastle RVI hospital, I had my heart transplant at the Freeman Hospital [Newcastle], so to represent my donor, my country, the two hospitals that re-built me and my family in my home city and the football team I support, is a bit special”.

“It is all about promoting organ donation – it is hugely important as it saves lives; if it wasn’t for organ donation I would not be alive today”

Athlete Simon Ripley

He stresses the importance of the Games as a means of communicating an important message about organ donation. He says: “It is all about promoting organ donation – it is hugely important as it saves lives; if it wasn’t for organ donation I would not be alive today. I would not have met my wife; our little son Louie would not be born”.

It is the same for thousands of people across the country and the world and appreciation for life will be an overarching theme at the Games.

Newcastle University student Sam Pooley, pictured competing at the British Transplant Games earlier this year Image: Sam Pooley

Newcastle University student Sam Pooley will also be competing in his third World Transplant Games this year. The 20 year-old received a life-saving kidney transplant at just three after suffering kidney failure due to a pre-birth condition. He says that despite being nervous, “I am very excited for the games as they will be in Newcastle, an area I know very well and I know that the North East will put on an amazing show”.

Competing in the 100m and 200m sprints, as well as long jump and relay, the decorated Scottish athlete agrees with Simon that the World Transplant Games convey an important message about organ donation and transplantation. He says: “they show us what it is possible to achieve after a transplant. They help to raise awareness for transplantation which is important because it helps to save so many lives every day.”

Over 6000 people in the UK are currently waiting for an organ transplant
There are currently over 6000 people in the UK waiting for an organ transplant. Sam says: “I was one of the luckier ones but some have been less fortunate than me and so more organ donation awareness is needed”.

Clearly, the World Transplant Games are going to be a week to remember, and both athletes encourage the public to come and watch the Games that are to begin in just nine days’ time. Sam says: “It is a once in a life time event and is completely free to watch at the venues, so get out and support your country.”

The events at the World Transplant Games are free to spectate and un-ticketed. A schedule of all the events and the venues they will take place in is available here.

It takes two minutes to register as an organ donor. One person can save up to nine lives through organ donation and transform many more through tissue and cell donation. Click here to sign up.


Image: World Transplant Games on Instagram

Last modified: 17th August 2019

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