Gastonia vet Jim Gill is looking to take his second chance at life by attending the 2022 Transplant Games of America in San Diego later this month.
The Transplant Games of America, taking place July 29-3 8, is a national sports and recreational competition whose athletes have received life-saving transplants.
dr Jim Gill of Wilkinson Animal Hospital received a kidney transplant in December 2003 after being diagnosed with nephropathy, a kidney disease that inhibits the kidney’s ability to filter waste from the body. After his diagnosis, he underwent dialysis procedures to filter his blood until he could find a donor. His younger sister Carole offered to be his living donor.
“She’s an absolute hero,” Gill said of his sister.
Gill has been practicing for these games for months. At age 66, he will join nearly a dozen North Carolina transplant athletes in competitive swimming. He is a gold medalist and record holder at the 2006, 2008 and 2018 US Transplant Games and the 2009 and 2019 World Transplant Games.
The transplant games mean a lot to Gil. For him and many others, these games are a celebration of life; an opportunity offered by their donors to prove that they can achieve many things.
The stories of other participants and organ donors and their families also serve as a source of inspiration.
“Some of these people are young,” Gil said. “I’ve seen kids going through that and seeing them excel in something where they’re validated by the cheering, the medal, the support from the other teams and then seeing families who’ve lost a loved one have come to see what their lost loved ones gave to someone else is quite an incredible situation.”
Even with a missing kidney, Gill’s sister remains physically healthy. Gill thought back to the day of the transplant as they lay side by side in their hospital beds. He looked at her and asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Carole didn’t need to be asked. She was ready. Whenever Gill attends the Transplant Games, he sends his sister the first medal he wins in each game.
Gill said he probably had his kidney disease since he was a teenager, but thought his pain was natural because it came on slowly until he started dialysis, which he likened to a “detoxification”.
Gill has always been involved in athletics. When he was 6 years old, a lifeguard bet him that he couldn’t swim through the pool. When he did, the defeated lifeguard invited him to join the swim team. He then took up competitive swimming during his college years at Louisiana State University.
Gill’s wife Vicki looked after him before and after the surgery and Gill started swimming again when he found out about the transplant games. He currently trains about five times a week with the Warlick Family YMCA and the Gaston Gators Masters Team as he prepares for competition.
He will compete in several events using different techniques such as butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
The Transplant Games have many events that require less physical exertion than swimming, including darts and cornhole. Its whole purpose is to prove that transplants work, by showing that transplant patients can lead successful, healthy lives, and by promoting the vital need for organ donors.
The Health Resources and Services Administrations state that more than 105,000 people are currently on the waiting list for an organ transplant in the United States. On average, 17 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant, while a single organ donor can save eight lives and improve 75 others.
Gill encourages all organ recipients, living donors, and donor families to contact North Carolina Transplant Athletes.
“It’s wonderful to work with such a supportive group of like-minded, upbeat people,” he said. “You don’t have to be athletic to be at the games. There is something for everyone and it is an amazing event to experience.”
Luc Séguret, a rising senior at Western Carolina University, is working as a reporter for The Gaston Gazette until he goes back to school in August. He can be reached at 828-206-2544 or by email at LSeguret@Gannett.com.