Patients who receive organs from live donors have an average survival time of 10 years, but Rodrigo Dalla Bona Swinka has already doubled that average combining sports with a balanced diet
“You may even do physical activities, but will never become an athlete.” That was the medical sentence given to businessman Rodrigo Dalla Bona Swinka when he found out he needed a kidney transplant to survive. At 21 years of age, the Curitiba resident suffered a severe kidney failure, and was taken to the operating room. “I received a kidney from my mother [Elisabeth] and remembered the words of that specialist. For me, his sentence sounded like a challenge, and I decided to dedicate myself in order to become a transplanted athlete,” tells Swinka.
However, soon after the surgical procedure, he realized that the trajectory he was about to face would not be easy. “The kidney needs to work as soon as it is put in place, but my organism rejected the new organ, and I also caught a strong pneumonia. That left me between life and death.” According to him, it took nearly ten days for his body to respond positively to the transplant. “I had to do hemodialysis, and I remember my mother visiting me several times. She was still in pain because of the surgery, and still remained by my side. She was a true fighter.”
After those anguishing moments, the family received the news they had been waiting. “Without any explanation, my new kidney began to function, and it was a joy!”, remembers the businessman, who is now 41 years old, and decided to celebrate the two decades he lived after the transplant taking part in an international event: the 9th edition of the Latin American Transplant Games, in Argentina.
The tournament was held in 2018, and it is a showcase for stories of resilience from people who received transplants. “I wasn’t with Rodrigo before the surgery, but during these years in which I have been accompanying him, I have seen a significant improvement. I don’t know anyone else that has become a triathlete after the surgery, like him,” remarks nephrologist Renato Almeida. According to the specialist, the life expectancy of patients who receive organs from live donors – like the case of Rodrigo Swinka – is approximately 10 years, an average which the Curitiba resident has already doubled almost effortlessly.
“Many people who receive transplants become lazy, and begin to gain excessive weight after the surgery. That causes many of them to develop high blood pressure and increased cholesterol. None of this happened with Rodrigo, because he showed resilience and overcame his condition,” points out Almeida.
The routine of physical activities associated with a diet low in sodium, fat, and protein, made the athlete’s health return to normal, with no reasons for concern. “He has been making exams every three months, and is great, due to his daily cares. May another ten years come for Rodrigo!”, estimates the doctor.
For Swinka, completing 20 years after his transplant as a triathlete shows it is possible to have quality of life after the surgery. “It hasn’t been easy. Right after I received my new kidney, I had to remain three months in isolation, because I had low immunity. I spent three months in complete rest,” remembers Swinka. It was only that recovery period that he was able to return to his Business Management course, to his work, and to practice physical exercises with extreme care. “I began to work out within my limits, and then I would ride my bike, jog, and swim occasionally.”
At first, these activities were done without the goal of competing, due to his condition as a transplant patient. “Only in 2017 I found out about the existence of tournaments destined to transplanted athletes. In these competitions, each modality is done separately, to avoid excessive effort.”
The Curitiba resident got in touch the World Transplant Games Federation (WTG), and decided to enroll himself in the event held by the entity in South America. In order to do that, he trained more intensively for four months. “I would alternate between swimming, running, and cycling, and took a one-day break every ten days. I was thus able to improve my performance, and became a member of Brazil’s delegation.”
The green and yellow team had a total of 13 athletes, including people who had heart, kidney, and bone marrow transplants. Swinka represented the country in the modality of triathlon for males between the ages of 40 and 49. “I ran five kilometers on the first day, cycled 30 kilometers on the second, and swam 400 meters on the last day,” remembers the young man, who won the silver medal in the pool and the bronze medal in the cycling competition.
“It was a celebration of life. Even though they were extremely demanding, I enjoyed every one of them, and became emotional every time I crossed the finish lines,” remembers the businessman.
Now, the triathlete has the goal of representing Brazil in the world championship of the modality, and wants to promote an even for transplanted people in the country through the Brazilian Transplant Association (ABTX). Besides, Swinka developed a website to encourage other patients like him to practice physical activities and, therefore, improve the quality of their lives and their self-esteem. “Don’t let anyone stop you. Set a goal and try to reach it, within your limits, because the transplant is not an end. It is a new beginning,” he guarantees.
Organ donation in Brazil
According to the Brazilian Association of Organ Transplants (ABTO), between January and September 2018, 8,058 notifications of potential organ donors were registered in the country. However, only 2,635 effectively made the donation. Each one of them helped up to eight people.
In the same period, more than 33 thousand patients were in the waiting line for an organ, and 1,852 died waiting for a transplant. Approximately 40 of them were children who needed a new liver, heart, lung, pancreas or kidney.
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Pacientes que recebem órgãos de doadores vivos têm sobrevida média de 10 anos, mas Rodrigo Dalla Bona Swinka já dobrou essa média aliando o esporte à alimentação balanceada