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Transplants and sport can mix

The founder of an association which encourages people with transplants to make the most of their ‘second life’ has told Connexion of the vital need for more organ donors as France held a national ‘think about organ donations’ day.

Emmanuel Gastaud founded Montagnes d’Espoir to prove life does not have to stop because you have had a transplant. On the contrary: Mr Gastaud, who has twice had kidney transplants, in 1997 aged 17 and then 10 years later in 2011, sets an example by continually pushing his boundaries with new physical feats, which he then blogs about.

He said: “In May I climbed Mont Blanc and it was the first time that a person with a kidney transplant had been to the top of the mountain on ski touring skis [designed for off-piste adventuring both up and downhill].

“It was tough, but really pretty and it was fantastic to do.

“Later in the season I will be trying to do a ‘half Iron Man’ at Vichy, which will be 2km of swimming, 80km biking and 21km of running. I don’t know if I’ll manage it, but we’ll see.”

He said the support association (montagnes-despoir.com) came about after other transplant recipients were inspired by his articles. “Bit by bit people said to themselves ‘wow, I didn’t realise that you could do all that after having a transplant’ – and it created a community.

“The aim is to show trans­plants work and allow you to live your life again. It’s also important that would-be donors know, because many people hesitate about whether they want to donate their organs or not – more than a third have not made up their minds.”

Mr Gastaud, who lives in Nice and works in the Mercantour national park, said transplant recipients have to get used to a life-long regime of medicines so the body does not reject the new organ, which “can be a bit complicated at first” and may have side effects. They also have to readjust to new capabilities.

However he wants to pass on the message that it gets better.

“You’ve really got to take up your normal life again – because you can. I tell people to live their passions. If it’s not sport, whatever you love to do.”

There are more than 20,000 patients in France waiting for transplants and only 5-6,000 people a year receive one, he said. “That’s why people wait and wait. For kidneys you can have dialysis instead – it’s not really a life, but you can survive. But for hearts or livers, some patients wait too long and die.”

He said he himself had waited four years for a second transplant after his first failed and he had to return to dialysis.

French rules for organ donation

In France people are assumed to be organ donors unless they opt out – however in practice families are asked.

  So, if you wish (or do not wish) to be a donor tell loved ones, either verbally  or in a letter. If you are sure you do not wish to donate, you should also join a national refusal register which is consulted before organs are removed: registrenationaldesrefus.fr

For visitors to France the law of their home country continues to apply to them.

Unlike giving blood, there are no restrictions to organ donation on former UK residents due to CJD.

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