The sky was blue and life was good. I was married with kids, had a good job and owned my house. I was into sports like table tennis, squash, cycling and running.
And then a grey cloud: lung disease killed my uncle, and then my mother. My cousin died whilst waiting for a lung transplant.
It was in 1992 when I noticed the first symptoms of lung disease in myself.
The grey cloud turned black when doctors, oxygen and hospitals became the center of my life. My darkest hour was when I could no longer hold down a job. If that was not enough, there was also a divorce. I moved out of the marital home, and did not see my kids any more. The only ray of light was that, although diagnosed with lung fibrosis, I was still healthy enough to go on the transplant list.
The sun broke through again in 1996 when I received a double lung transplant at the Groningen University Medical Center. I’ll never forget the bitter-sweet moment of waking from the anesthetic after the operation: I was unbelievably happy that I had a new lease on life, but acutely aware of what my donor’s family must be going through. Four months later I could resume work, cycling there and back! In the 13 years since my transplant I have only been back to the hospital for check-ups.
I took up table tennis again and in 1997 participated for the first time in the WTG which were held in Sydney. And there, in the warm sun, on the Athletics track I had a very emotional moment of epiphany: my body was healthy again and my mind no longer blamed it for becoming ill. My donor had given me the gift of life, I had just met my new girlfriend and I felt so very happy and lucky.
I got a taste for the 100m sprint and started to train at home. I participated in all the World Transplant Games where I won medals for the 100m, the 200m, and high jump and even got gold for the long jump in Nancy. The 2009 World Transplant Games were my most successful: gold medals in the high jump and the long jump and had two World Records for the 100m and 200m (Mens 50). But my greatest sporting success was in 2008 when I became the Dutch National champion in the 200m (Mens 50). Nobody knew that I was a transplantee!
In 2014 I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro (5895m / 19340ft) in Africa.
In 2009 I stepped down after 12 years as Chairman of the Dutch “Sport en Transplantatie” Foundation (formerly World Transplant Games Nederland) which I joined in 1997. For some of the World Transplant Games, as well as competing, I was also the Dutch Team Manager. At the European Championships for Heart and Lung Transplanted Apeldoorn2012 I was the chairman of the organizing committee. At present till 2014 I will be a board member of the European Heart Lung Transplant Federation, and during the WTG Durban 2013 chosen if councilor of the World Transplant Games. The European Lung Foundation Award was presented to André in 2015. For taking the active option and for inspiring others through all achievements.
The Life for Kids cycling tour, www.lifeforkids.org, from Groningen (NL) to Malaga (E) and give presentations about the ethical issues on his way in transplant centres for children is André’s new project for 2016.
My sky is blue and once again life is smiling at me, thanks to the gift of life from my unknown donor.