Comox transplant recipient says Canada Transplant Games are a chance to celebrate

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As Ferris Bueller once put it, “life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.�

But heart transplant recipient Robbie Thompson is in no danger of missing anything.

After receiving two transplants before the age of 5, the now 20-year-old Comox man is no stranger to slowing down, appreciating life and making sure he takes the time to look around.

“I’m still perfectly functional,� he said. “It’s just that you have to learn how to take it easier as you go along more so than other people your age.�

Thompson is among the more than 300 athletes – who also happen to be transplant recipients – who will descend on the University of B.C. campus this week for the Canadian Transplant Games.

Hosted once every two years, the games bring together athletes who have received organ transplants, living donors, donor families and supporters for a celebration of support and a second chance at life. Athletes range in age from as young as 3, up to 78 years old.

“It’s really just a competition so that we can all basically have an excuse to get together and show people that we’re just as physically capable if not more physically capable than people with or without transplants,� said Thompson, who will be competing in cycling and swimming competitions this year. He’s also attended international transplant sport competitions, travelling as far as Australia to compete.

“At the end of the day, we’re all just there to say hi to each other and get out and do these things together – that’s the main concern for us.�

Thompson was born with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that causes the left side of his heart to beat much larger than usual, which means the valves stretch and don’t close properly. He received his first transplant at 18 months old and a second one when he was five.

While in high school, Thompson said he struggled to understand and accept the traumatizing experience he had been through and yearned to be a normal teen. As he grew older, however, he’s come to accept what it means to be a transplant recipient and appreciate his second chance at life.

Because his transplanted heart does not have nerve connections to the brain, Thompson requires more warm-up than other young athletes.

“Basically, it has to play catch-up when we start exercising,� he explained. “Once we get going, it’s decent but it takes a little while before we’re able to get going. That’s what the training’s for – just conditioning and getting your body in shape so it can handle that.�

In turn, his experience and his transplant has forced him to adopt a similar philosophy to that of Ferris Bueller.

“It’s definitely given me a better perspective on life that I think it’d be good for more people to adopt just so they can appreciate what’s around them,� he said. “You don’t have to go fast all the time.�

The Canada Transplant Games take place July 2 to 7 at the UBC campus. Sporting events are free and open to the public. Thompson is competing in the cycling competition on Tuesday at and in the swimming competition on Thursday.

For more information on how to register as a donor, visit For more information on the Canada Transplant Games or an events schedule, visit

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