Dr. Robert Kaprove, M.D.
August 6, 2006
These words trumpeted forth in Louisville, Ky., in June at the opening ceremonies of the National Kidney Foundation’s U.S. Transplant Games. This four-day biennial event showcased the athletic skills of 1,200 transplant recipients (heart, kidney, liver, lung, pancreas and/or heterologous bone marrow) ages 3 to 84. Team Western New York consisted of 20 recipient athletes, three living donors and five donor family members.
The goals of the Games are to increase public awareness of the critical need for organ donation, to demonstrate the success of transplantation and to increase awareness of the benefits of fitness for transplant recipients.
The first Games took place in 1982. They have grown tremendously since then. This year there were 8,000 registrants, including the athletes, family members and friends, living organ donors and donor family members.
Team WNY participated in events ranging from track and field to table tennis. Several team members received medals for first-, second- and third-place finishes, but each of us was a winner by virtue of having participated. We also met and developed friendships with donors, donor family members and organ recipients from all over the country.
Organ transplantation has been a tremendous success. Since the first kidney transplant in 1954, improvements in medical care have resulted in improved outcomes. These include advances in surgical techniques and anti-rejection therapy (medications to prevent the body from reacting to organs and tissues from people who are genetically different), as well as progress in the management of infections, hypertension, heart disease, hyperlipidemia, diabetes, etc.
I was diagnosed with kidney disease more than 30 years ago. Over the years, I gave up jogging and tennis. I dropped out of community activities because I did not have enough energy for non-essential activities. I was able to continue working as a physician, but I was always tired and slept a lot.
In the year before my transplant, I had to nap during the day if I wanted to go to a movie in the evening. Ten years ago, I received the call that every person on a transplant list waits for: A kidney was available. A man I had never met had died. At this time of deep grief, his family generously donated his organs so that others, including me, might live.
For me this gift of life has been wonderful. My health and energy are better now than they were 10 years ago. I returned to full-time medical practice and resumed my participation in community activities. I instituted a regular exercise regimen, culminating at the Transplant Games this year when I rode a bicycle 20 kilometers in 90-degree heat.
Unfortunately, not everyone who needs an organ transplant gets one. In the late 1990s, 13 people a day died waiting for a transplant. Despite the increasing numbers of transplants performed every year, the number of people dying each day has risen to 17.
It is imperative that we increase awareness of organ donation so that more people can return to normal productive lives. I urge everyone to sign up to become an organ and tissue donor and to make loved ones aware of this decision. Let’s go for the gold and become organ donors!
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