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Meet the Women Athletes Representing India at the Next World Transplant Games

This World Organ Donation Day, these tenacious women are gearing up to make the country proud while busting myths about the organ donation and transplants.

“Donating a kidney was an enlightening process in many ways. Among other personal revelations, through this process, I understood the lack of awareness about chronic kidney diseases (CKD) and the organ donation process,” says Maggie Paul, a 34-year-old PhD scholar at the University of Adelaide, Australia. She is part of the Indian contingent for the upcoming 23rd World Transplant Games to be held in Perth, Australia next year.
ICYDK, the World Transplant Games (WTG) are held twice every year (both summer and winter game editions) across the globe. Organised especially for athletes who are either organ donors or receivers by the UK-based World Transplant Games Federation (WTGF), these games aim to demonstrate the benefits of successful organ transplantation and increasing public awareness about both donating and receiving organs. India has been participating in WTG since over a decade now, with many a gold medal to its credit. The Games serve as a source of encouragement to many like Maggie, who wish to continue supporting the cause of CKD and lead healthy lives.
Just like Maggie’s sibling, Merlyn, who received her sister’s kidney and is an athlete who is part of the contingent too. Working as a CSR consultant, she was diagnosed with CKD around 15 years ago when she was just a teen. She shares, “Though my journey had its fair share of ups and downs, with the help of devoted doctors and endless care and love from my family, peers, and CKD community, I have been able to live a wholesome life. I remind myself every day of the importance of an active lifestyle and the blessing an organ transplant can be to someone like me…it is quite literally a matter of life and death.”

Sunayana Singh, CEO of Organ Receiving and Giving Awareness Network (ORGAN) India.

Sunayana Singh, CEO of Organ Receiving and Giving Awareness Network (ORGAN) India. 

Even though there are no rules for the Olympics or Commonwealth Games stating that organ donors or transplant receivers cannot participate, it is difficult for them to make the cut and qualify for these games. “Athletes with transplants need to take more care of their health and their bodies to be able to compete physically at the same level any Olympian, hence it is an uphill challenge but not impossible,” says Sunayana Singh, CEO of Organ Receiving and Giving Awareness Network (ORGAN) India. An initiative by the Delhi-based NGO Parashar Foundation, ORGAN India aims to remedy the shortage of organ donors in India and facilitate a credible and safe eco-system for transplants.  
“We took on the role of the member organisation from India at the WTGF so that we could be better focus and train our Indian contingent for the WTF 2023. We sensed that there was a lack of support in general for the athletes and that they were stuck in a limbo. India has so much talent to offer and our contingent too is equally gifted and driven by the want to play for the country and win, while raising awareness on organ donation,” she elaborates. “We wanted our athletes to be at par with those from the US, UK, and Australia and so, we ensured they had some of the very best coaches. After proper assessment, they are now being physically, psychologically, and technically trained in a wholesome way so that they are fully prepared to compete against the best donor and transplanted athletes in the world. After having recently concluded our badminton and football camps, conducting camps for the golf, tennis, and swimming with the help of our partners—Dr. O. P. Bhalla Foundation and Manav Rachna Sports Science Institute—is next on our plan of action.”

Swarika Seraphim, who loves working out, wants to dispel the myth that people cannot have a fit or healthy life with just one kidney post organ donation.

Swarika Seraphim, who loves working out, wants to dispel the myth that people cannot have a fit or healthy life with just one kidney post organ donation.  

Many a times, family and friends have to step up and be an organ donor, especially in times of crisis, and this process can be exhausting on multiple levels. Swarika Seraphim, born and raised in Kolkata, faced similar circumstances when her long-time diabetic father was urgently in need of a kidney transplant in 2021. She recalls, “It was heartbreaking for me to see his medical reports and listen to the doctors say that the chances of reversing the damage to his kidneys were low. Looking at his health decline, I decided to be a donor for my father. It was not an easy journey, the society had a lot of questions around me being a donor as a ‘young girl’, who wasn’t married as yet. But my fiancée and his family completely backed my decision, and I had their full support.”
Currently working in Bengaluru, this 28-year-old athlete suggests that one must responsibly undergo tests and clarify all their doubts with the doctors before making the decision to donate an organ. She is of the opinion that giving someone the gift of life by donating an organ is certainly a feeling like no other and we couldn’t agree more. Whether it is live organ donation or donation post-mortem, we all can all do or bit to help in improving someone else’s quality of life. Team Cosmo wishes the entire Indian contingent at the WTG 2023 all the very best in all their future endeavours.