Twenty thousand people in the Netherlands have undergone organ or stem cell donation. Only a fraction of them – around four hundred – exercise several times a week. Too little confidence in one’s own body, too little knowledge of sports clubs and too little stimuli from the medical world are some of the reasons.
The Sports and Transplantation Foundation wants to do something about this now. The foundation has set itself the goal of dramatically increasing the estimated number of athletes to three to five thousand. Because it is precisely for this group of people that the average life expectancy can improve considerably with sufficient physical activity. After a transplant, the average person takes 15 years with their organ. Someone who exercises regularly extends that period by an average of five years. Exercise also helps suppress the side effects of medication, which improves quality of life.
In order to further promote the sport, the Sports and Transplantation Foundation was admitted as a member of the CNO-NSF sports umbrella last month. An important step for the voluntary organization of 120 members. Membership greatly facilitates contacts with sports federations and makes it possible to apply for European subsidies. “This support for the biggest sporting family in the Netherlands is very nice,” says Peter van Maurik (57), member of the board of directors of the Sports and Transplantation Foundation.
Everyone with a transplant should be able to exercise
During its twenty years of existence, the foundation has so far mainly focused on the preparation of the World Transplant Games, the World Cup for transplant recipients which takes place every two years. In 2019, the Netherlands traveled to Newcastle with sixty athletes.
With the membership of the NOC-NSF, the objective becomes broader: to allow every transplant recipient to play sports. Ultimately, there has to be a sporting opportunity for everyone with organ or stem cell donation within 40 kilometers. As an umbrella organization, the foundation mainly wishes to advise sports associations: how to manage people who donate stem cells or organs.
There are several reasons why so few people practice organ donor exercise. The transplants are relatively old (40 years); then the frequency of sports also decreases in the rest of the Dutch population. In addition, transplant recipients often get sick at a young age, which means they lack experience with sports. Yet, according to the foundation, there are now around five thousand people interested enough in exercising. They face other problems. They must first regain confidence in their own body. They also have a long recovery period after organ or stem cell donation. After weeks, months and sometimes years in the hospital, there is hardly any muscle mass left. It takes one to three years to reach the same muscle level as before recording. “For each week of hospitalization, it takes you a month to recover,” says Van Maurik, who himself received a donor heart in 2015. “And it’s almost impossible to get into a gym. To rebuild your muscle mass from such a low level, you need knowledge.
Little attention to movement
Rehabilitation clinics are insufficient in this regard. We help someone to do their shopping independently, but not to walk thirty kilometers. “You have to find out for yourself,” says Van Maurik. There is little medical attention for sufficient exercise. Sport en Transplantatie now focuses on common walks in hospitals. Four of the eight Dutch transplant centers have already extended the rehabilitation process with a walking program. Van Maurik: “If you reach a good level by walking, then you can start to exercise.”
This sport usually takes place in regular sports clubs. But even after the transplant recipients have joined in, they still face obstacles. Knowledge of the right training methods is often lacking. The foundation wants to help associations in this area.
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