Life begins with organ transplant surgery – this is the message Reena Raju is set to spread when she represents India in the World Transplant Games 2017 in Spain later this year.
The Bengaluru resident will compete in women’s 100m (30-39 years category) along with badminton mixed doubles player Balveer Singh (a kidney recipient). “I take great pride in representing my country for the World Transplant Games 2017,” she said. Reena, who underwent a heart transplant surgery in 2009, will be the first woman transplant athlete to represent the country in the games and spread awareness about organ donation. She is also the founder of Light a Life Foundation, an organisation that aims at providing holistic support post organ transplant.
Reena, who has been an athlete since her teens, affirmed that it is possible to bounce back to a normal life post heart transplant, but one has to be disciplined. “We have to be on medication throughout our lives. We have to have frequent blood tests and anti-organ rejection medication. It has been eight-and-a-half years since I had my surgery and I have been following a routine diligently,” she said.
“I was diagnosed with DCM when I was 25. I pulled through for four years with barely 30% of my heart functioning. It took me about four years to find a donor and get the surgery done. The main reason is the lack of awareness about cadaver donation back then. Though this was my last option, I am very happy today,” she said. “I would like to thank my angel donor for this gift of life. Special thanks to Dr KM Cherian, who performed my surgery,” Reena added.
What prompted her to represent India at the games? “I been an athlete for a long time and sports is immensely important to me. I feel extremely disheartened when I see that there are very few organ recipients who play competitive sports in our country. There is immense potential, but paucity of support and funding. Next time, by 2019, the numbers may be higher. We will be able to play more and win more,” Reena hoped.
For a sports enthusiast, dabbling in all kinds of activities came naturally to her. “I’ve played a lot of hockey. I’ve also dabbled in adventure sports; I went skydiving last December.”
Post the surgery, it was obvious for Reena, who has a degree in psychology, to go back to work. But she chose to take a different path and started Light a Life Foundation. “Organ donation is not only about saving a life; it is to keep a life going. Sustainability is very important. Also, we need to make transplant surgery more affordable. Our organisation is like a second home for patients. This is also a place where people come together to sing, jam, donate medicines, hold counselling sessions – we do everything to live happily.”
The foundation was started in 2011 with the idea of making transplants more viable. “We need to understand that transplant has to be a viable and sustainable option. I thank our sponsor Vestian Global Services for believing in us. They are also the reason why I am able to take part in the games,” Reena signed off.