A woman who received two lifesaving organ transplants has gone on to win big at the Westfield Health British Transplant Games – and now she wants to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation.
Helen Wilson, from Wokingham, fell ill for the first time in 2000, and by 2005 doctors confirmed that she was facing kidney failure.
‘I had both my kidneys removed and went on to dialysis, which was debilitating and brought with it massive food and fluid restrictions,’ Helen tells Metro.co.uk.
The 57-year-old had to attend dialysis sessions three evenings every week, for five hours at a time, which completely took over her entire life.
‘Thankfully my amazing brother, Steve, came forward and said that he wanted to be a donor and he saved my life in February 2007 by giving me one of his kidneys – which I have named Sydney.’
Helen was delighted to have her life back, but a few years later disaster struck again when she became incredibly ill once more. Doctors told her that this time she had a polycystic liver.
‘My liver became enlarged and body quickly became full of fluid. I was lucky to hold on long enough for a liver transplant in December 2013, and I received a new liver from an amazing donor family – I have called my new liver Lionel.
‘During both periods of illness I was not living – I was just existing.
‘Everyday tasks were too much for me to complete and I was sleeping upright on the sofa as if I lay down I could not breathe. I did manage to continue to work part time, but it was a struggle.’
Sport and fitness has always been really important to Helen, so getting back to being active was high on her priorities after she recovered from her transplants.
‘Before becoming unwell I used to be really active, I even owned horses and rode regularly so discovering I was ill came as a real shock,’ explains Helen.
‘To be able to do any sport is, I have found, a luxury, and there are a lot of people who are not able to do this even if they wanted to.
‘Since my second transplant I have had a go at archery, 100m, 200m, long jump, discus, shot putt and javelin – having done none of these before I was ill.
‘Being able to run, jump and throw has really helped to motivate me as I appreciate being able to do things like this when for a long period of time, even walking was difficult.’
This is why Helen was so keen to get involved with the British Transplant Games. She found out about the competition when staff at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust encouraged her to attend in 2014.
‘I went along as a spectator to the opening ceremony and became very emotional when I saw the donor families and listened to them talking about how proud they were to be attending the Games,’ says Helen. ‘I instantly knew that I had to take part and compete in 2015.’
So Helen started training and taking her fitness really seriously – she was determined to prove that she could do it, and also wanted to help raise awareness in the process.
‘I competed in the 100m, 200m and the archery. I secured a bronze medal in the archery and personal best times in the other two events. I was over the moon.’
Over the past few years, Helen has competed in archery, javelin and the 100m and she has taken home three gold, two silver and two bronze medals, as well as smashing numerous personal bests.
‘Since first taking part in the Games, I’ve proved to myself that I can overcome anything and have the mental and physical strength to do things I didn’t think were possible after my transplants,’ she adds.
‘I’m really grateful to have been offered this opportunity to celebrate life alongside other donor recipients and their families.
‘I feel incredibly lucky to have received two organ transplants and I will never forget what my brother did for me or what my donor’s family went through to enable me to receive the lifesaving organ.’
Helen says that the British Transplant Games have opened up opportunities that she didn’t think possible for her.
‘I am now pleased to have as my friends not only other organ recipients, but also members of donor families who have made the generous decision in the hardest of times to honour their loved ones’ wishes to be a donor.
‘Attending The Games is like coming home to a whole new family and the opportunities that the Games bring to help raise awareness of organ donation are invaluable.
‘The Games are now a massive part of my life and that of my family and friends as well.’
Three people die every day because there are not enough donation organs available. This is what Helen is hoping to change.
‘I have been so lucky in receiving both of my transplants and I want to help ensure that more people can have the same opportunities that I have had.’ she says.
‘The gift of life transforms the life of the person receiving the organ, but it goes wider than that and it affects the lives of their family and friends as well.’
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