On today, European Organ Donation Day, we are honouring this year’s ELF Award recipient, André Lassooij.
André, based in Amsterdam, was in his early thirties when he first started experiencing symptoms of a lung condition, which turned out to be pulmonary fibrosis. In the 4 years following his diagnosis, the illness took its toll; André found himself spending a lot of time in hospital, needing oxygen to breathe and, eventually, having to stop working.
However, when he was offered “the gift of life” with a double-lung transplant from an unknown donor in 1996, André’s life changed dramatically. Since the operation, André has been given a new lease of life, with his health much improved. Within 4 months, he was able to return to work – and even cycle there and back each day.
Prior to the onset of his illness, André had a keen interest in playing different sports, including table tennis, squash, cycling and running. However, as his symptoms worsened, he found himself unable to stay physically active. Following his transplant, André was able to take up table tennis again and, in 1997, he took part in the World Transplant Games in Sydney, Australia – which would be the first of many.
André subsequently took part in each of the World Transplant Games in the years that followed, having developed a taste for track and field sports. He has won medals for the 100m sprint, the 200m sprint, the high jump and the long jump. 2009, his most successful year at the World Transplant Games, saw him beat the world records for the 100m sprint and the 200m sprint, and win gold medals in the high jump and long jump.
However, one of André’s proudest sporting achievements to date came in 2008 when he became the Dutch national champion of the 200m sprint in a race against men who had not previously had a transplant – most of whom did not realise that André had previously had a double-lung transplant!
More recently, in 2014, André completed a major feat in leading an expedition of people that had been previous recipients of organ transplants to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation. This is only a small part of a much bigger campaign to promote organ donation, something that he tirelessly supports.
In addition to his achievements as a competing athlete, André has held a number of prestigious organisational roles. He has served as the Vice President of the European Heart and Lung Transplant Federation and, between 1997 and 2009, he served as Chairman of Sport en Transplantatie, formerly World Transplant Games Nederland. At many of the World Transplant Games André took part in, he also took up the role of Dutch Team Manager. In addition, he was chairman of the organising committee of the European Heart and Lung Transplant Games in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands, in 2012, and was elected onto the council for the World Transplant Games in Durban, South Africa in 2013.
André’s positive attitude to life, his sporting achievements and his efforts to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation are truly inspirational. The ‘take the active option’ message of this year’s Healthy Lungs for Life campaign aims to draw attention to the benefits of physical activity for all, and particularly among people living with a lung condition, at a level that is right for each individual. Whether it be at a highly athletic level like André, or making smaller day-to-day changes to move more, we encourage everyone to ‘take the active option’!
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