Three years ago, Dr. Claude Laflamme became an organ transplant recipient. Every day since then, he says, “has been an absolute blessing.”
For nearly two decades, Dr. Laflamme, 53, has helped care for patients as a cardiac anaesthesiologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. During most of that time, he was a patient too: for years, he lived with chronic renal disease.
By 2012, however, his disease had progressed to the point that he needed a kidney transplant. “I was told to start looking for a living donor. Otherwise, I would have to go on dialysis,” says Dr. Laflamme.
Fortunately, he was able to avoid dialysis by finding a living donor in time. His sister, France, donated her kidney to him in 2014.
“After receiving my kidney, I was determined to take care of it and treat it with respect,” says Dr. Laflamme. “My sister made a huge sacrifice by becoming a living donor, so if nothing else, I wanted to honour her decision by living a healthy life.”
He began cycling as part of his commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and before long, he was riding four or five times a week. Last year, a friend mentioned that he might be able to participate in the 2017 World Transplant Games (WTG) in Malaga, Spain.
“I had never heard of the event, but once I looked into it, getting to the Games became a huge motivator for me,” says Dr. Laflamme.
By his own admission, Dr. Laflamme was not an athlete before his transplant, and he had never competed in cycling before. Upon arriving at the WTG in June, though, he realized the event was about much more than winning medals.
“It was so inspiring to see all of these incredibly fit people, people you would never know had a transplant by looking at them, leading such healthy and active lives. The camaraderie among the participants was really amazing,” he says.
As an athlete living with a transplant, Dr. Laflamme says one of the largest obstacles to participating in sports is dealing with the side effects of the many medications transplant recipients must take. Some medications can affect balance, while others can cause muscle pain.
The biggest barrier, however, is often psychological. “For many of these organ recipients, they’ve lived with chronic disease for so long that they don’t know what it’s like to be healthy,” he says.
That inspired Dr. Laflamme to become an official Fit for Life ambassador for the WTG Federation, providing education and encouragement to other transplant recipients about getting involved in competitive sports.
“I’m helping to create a community of transplant recipients and teams where we can talk about goal setting, motivation and coaching. I didn’t have access to those kinds of resources after my transplant, and I think it would have helped so much during my recovery,” says Dr. Laflamme.
During this year’s WTG, Dr. Laflamme competed in three events: the 5km time trial, the 20km team ride and the 32km individual ride. He plans to add another event, running, to his schedule for the next WTG event in 2019, and has already started training with a coach.
“I haven’t felt this good in twenty years. Post-transplant, I’m healthier now than I’ve ever been.”