Celebrating transplant patients

12 September 2018

Thanks to generous donations, children as young as two who have had a transplant have been given the opportunity to compete in the annual British Transplant Games.

Team Evelina participants, with Grainne Walsh, Advanced Nurse Practitioner for Children's Transplantation
Team Evelina participants, with Grainne Walsh, Advanced Nurse Practitioner for Children's Transplantation

Spending time with other families and staff in an environment outside of the hospital provides children, parents and families with much-needed support, friendship and an opportunity to relax.

Community spirit

The British Transplant Games have been running for more than 30 years and are hosted annually in different cities throughout the UK with hundreds of fantastic transplant athletes taking part in various sporting events.

One of the teams competing, Evelina London VIPs, was set up by staff at Evelina London Children’s Hospital with the aim of encouraging patients to reach their full potential, and also to highlight the continued need for transplantation and organ donation. The team is managed by Advanced Nurse Practitioner for Children's Transplantation Grainne Walsh, Senior Play Specialist Cathy Gill and Pharmacy Manager Pat Hayes, with help from a group of dedicated volunteers.

Children and teenagers compete in a number of different sports such as running, swimming, squash and archery – an even more impressive achievement given the fact that they have all undergone complex transplant surgery.

Supported by donations

As it costs an average of £900 per person to take part in the Games, the hospital relies on donations to subsidise this for parents, and remove any additional financial burden for families.

In the children’s kidney transplant unit at Evelina London, there are approximately 90 children receiving ongoing care following their transplant, all of whom are encouraged to compete and be part of the Evelina London VIPs team.

As well as demonstrating the patients’ return to health and fitness by taking part, the Games help to highlight the continued need for lifesaving transplantation and organ donation.

Role model: Riley's story

Six-year-old Riley has been a patient at Evelina London since she was born. She has a condition that causes kidney failure, meaning she had to have a kidney transplant three years ago, with her dad as the amazing donor.

Now after her ‘life-changing’ transplant, Riley is lucky to lead a largely normal life, but her mum, Tara, says that Riley still notices her differences from other children. That’s one of the reasons that the British Transplant Games are so important, as Tara explains.

‘Riley doesn't often see children who have had a transplant, so it's nice for her to spend time with those who are in a similar situation,’ she says. ‘For example, all the kids at the Games have to drink a lot to reach their fluid target for the day, and they’ll all be taking their medication too. It's nice for Riley to feel she's not the only one. As well as having a great time!’

Overcoming obstacles, celebrating life

‘A transplant is not a cure, it's a lifelong treatment and our VIPs will be attending hospital regularly for their entire lives,' explains Pat Hayes. ‘We want each child to be supported and encouraged to reach their potential in life, particularly after overcoming obstacles such as long-term illness, multiple hospital admissions and operations. The Games help them toward this goal.’

Many transplant recipients can feel different from their friends – especially teenagers. The Games help diminish any sense of isolation by allowing them to train and compete in sport with peers who have been through similar experiences – all while under careful medical supervision. At the same time, it promotes healthy competition and sportsmanship amongst the children and teenagers.

‘These children have been through a difficult time so the Games are a celebration of their lives. They also get to spend time with other children who’ve been through the same thing and make friends for life,’ says Grainne.

‘We’re so pleased to be able to take part in the British Transplant Games,’ says Tara, ‘We never knew they existed until after Riley had her transplant, so we want more people to know about it as it's such a special thing. You can't watch an event without a tear in your eye!’

Thanks to all who have fundraised to ensure the Evelina London VIPs can compete. A special thank you to Kia Oval and Surrey County Cricket Club, who raised £40,000 towards some of the team spaces and to help the team in the future. There are ongoing costs surrounding Evelina London being able to send our patients to the Games each year, such as team places, travel and accommodation. Your continued support means that our terrific team can keep attending. Thank you! 

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