Irish win 16 medals at transplant games


An Irish team of 16 transplant patients has returned from Sweden where they picked up a large number of medals in the European Heart and Lung Transplant Games in Växjö.

The tally of medals included six gold, seven silver and three bronze medals in a competition attended by teams from 23 European countries.

The Irish team of 14 men and two women included Sandra Johnson, a Co Kildare mother of three, who successfully appealed through this newspaper for a new heart in 2003, after part of the muscle in her own organ was destroyed by a virus.

Ms Johnson said the Irish athletes were "in a super fit condition" and had won medals in running, swimming and cycling events, among others.

Ms Johnson, who picked up two silver and one bronze medal in the swimming categories, said she trained three times a week at the Osprey Leisure Centre in Naas prior to the games.

A well-know artist and an art teacher in the north Kildare area, she told The Irish Times she wanted to enter the competition to raise awareness of the importance of being an organ donor, but had never really expected the Irish team to do so well.

She said the array of medals "just shows the importance of being an organ donor" and recalled she had spent about a year prior to her transplant in intensive care in Dublin's Mater hospital. During that time she was attached to a machine which helped her damaged heart to function but could not survive independently.

"The medals that we won are dedicated to the donors and their families who gave us this chance, the success of the Irish team is dedicated to them," she said.

According to the Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association, transplants are now a routine medical procedure. Recipients are living much longer and enjoying a good quality of life.

Eleven heart transplants were carried in the Republic's designated centre of excellence at the Mater in 2009, up from four in 2008. Lung transplants have also increased, while kidney transplants at Beaumont hospital in Dublin hit an all-time high at 172.