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Touched by transplant

Erin Bellingham
1 December 2016

I have been aware of transplantation all my life, as my eldest brother Scott was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when he was three years old. My parents were advised that a secondary disease, sclerosing cholangitis, would occur, and that at some stage in his teenage years, Scott would require a liver transplant. For as long as I can remember, we had trips from Canberra to Sydney, and it was during these visits to Scott in hospital that I had the opportunity to talk to doctors, nurses and other hospital staff. I was fascinated with the work of the physiotherapists, and around the age of 10, I decided I wanted to be a physiotherapist when I grew up.

In March 2002, my family received the most important phone call of our lives—there was a liver for Scott. He had been waiting for his second liver transplant after complications caused the first transplant to be unsuccessful. Following a marathon 19-hour surgery, Scott was finally on the road to recovery, and eventually was well enough to compete in the 2008 Australian Transplant Games. By 2010, I was very aware of the games, as they were held in Canberra where mum and dad were part of the local organising committee, so while I was still studying at university, I helped out where I could. I also attended the games in 2012 in Newcastle, but was unable to go to the 2014 games in Melbourne as Scott’s illness had returned and he was unwell; sadly in 2015, he lost his battle. The next games were to be held in western Sydney during October 2016, and to honour my brother, my mum, who had been the ACT team manager for a number of years, continued her role and asked if I would like to be the physio for the ACT team. I thought this would be a great way to assist and provide support to the team, particularly during the swimming and athletics, and also for myself to compete in the swimming events Scott would have usually participated in.
A few weeks before the games were due to commence, the CEO of Transplant Australia, Chris Thomas, rang to ask me if I could be the main physiotherapist for the entire games. I was asked to work with other physios and university students to provide treatment where required, for both athletes and supporters. Around 500 recipients and supporters were registered to compete.

The week began with a triathlon and fun run, which resulted in numerous treatments to keep the athletes going. Other sports that we attended included volleyball, triathlon, tennis, swimming, athletics and cycling. While I enjoyed working with the students and other physios, I was really inspired by talking with the organ recipients, donor families and living donors. Having watched my brother go through his transplants, I understood what they had gone through and that attending the games was more than simply competing. For them, it was an opportunity to showcase their renewed health and enjoyment for life.

Being part of the games was a reminder to me that the true heroes are the families that donate their loved one’s organs. It is this gift that enables thousands of people throughout Australia to have a second chance in life.


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