Organ Donation & The Transplant Games – Blog Post

To opt out or not to opt out - by David Welch

Over the weekend we were inundated with media messages about organ donation and the government’s plans to introduce a national ‘opt out’ scheme for organ donation to be brought into effect by 2020. The change, nicknamed Max’s law after 10 year old Max Johnson who underwent a heart transplant, would see potential organ donors having to actively opt out of a national register.

This kind of scheme has seen some success in Wales since it was introduced in 2015 however the media is divided on the issue with most headlines screaming that the change will “save lives” while others claimed it would mean “doctors are free to take our organs”. Whichever side of the fence you sit on for this debate, there is no denying that organ donors make a huge difference to people’s lives. There is nowhere the evidence is greater for this than at the British Transplant Games, which concluded on Sunday in Birmingham.

The Transplant Games, now in its 30th year, sees hundreds of transplant recipients compete in sporting events in an effort to build a support network, encourage sport participation and raise awareness of organ donation. Over 800 people took part in events this year in Birmingham and over 40 of those athletes were representing the Leeds Children’s team, where kids as young as three competed in over 25 sporting events.

This year, for the first time, Leeds Cares supported the Leeds Children’s team at the Games, providing them with a brand new purple kit for the occasion. The team excelled, bringing home an array of gold, silver & bronze medals back to Yorkshire. Two members of the charity team went to Birmingham to see what the Games was all about and, hearing their stories, it’s easy to see that for these children, the Games isn’t really about sport at all.

For 18 year old kidney transplant recipient Akash, who attended the Games for the 12th time, the Games is about building confidence and making friends with people who’ve had similar experiences to you. It’s about trying new things and building a support network for families like yours who’ve been through difficult times.

For 13 year old Ellie, the Games was about uncovering a love of swimming, finding the confidence to join a local club and being lucky enough to compete in the World Games in Spain last year. For six year old Reuben, the Games are just about seeing friends again and having fun in a world away from hospitals, blood tests and medication.

Whilst the Games was underway, one of our participants got the all important phone call. An organ had been found and Leeds Children’s Hospital needed her to return home immediately to prepare for surgery. In that moment, the people she wanted to share the news with were the other children, the other families, and the nurses & therapists who’d been on that long emotional journey with her.

The Games provide an outlet, a release and a method of building confidence but they also provide a support network like no other, a life-long transplant ‘family’ to help you navigate the pitfalls of life on an organ donor list.

No amount of money will help these children get their transplants quicker nor will it ensure they don’t get sick again. But whilst they are on that waiting list, or recovering, or crossing their fingers that the organ will stay healthy, we absolutely can help them take three days out from life, relax, meet friends and play sport.

This year, Leeds Cares helped to provide new kit but also helped to fund accommodation and transport. In addition, each family taking part is asked to fundraise towards the cost of participating. Next year, I have no doubt we’ll be supporting them again to take an even bigger team to the Games in Wales.

To help us keep supporting the Transplant Games, text GAMES to 70660 to donate £5.