Life after a transplant

By: Josh Fernandez The Press Tribune
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Life after an organ transplant doesn’t mean you have to be confined to your home. Just ask any of the participants in this year’s National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Paul Gassen, 54, is a Roseville resident who loved to play softball and golf as much as he could. But in 2001, cardiomyopathy – a weakening of the heart structure – wreaked havoc on his body. In 2005, he needed a heart transplant. After finding a donor and having the surgery, Gassen took only five months to recover. During that time he read a lot of golf magazines and books – and he even taught himself to play right-handed (he was formerly a leftie). “After I got permission from my doctor, I went out and started swinging a club right-handed,” he said. “I kept practicing and practicing until I got to where I am today.” The heart recipient has about a 20 handicap, and he’ll compete in the golf tournament at the Transplant Games that take place in Madison, Wis. from July 30 through Aug. 4. The games are sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation – a voluntary health agency dedicated to preventing kidney diseases, improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increasing the availability of all organs for transplantation. Also involved with the games is the California Transplant Donor Network – an organ recovery agency serving central and northern California. The Donor Network put together a team of 30 athletes, including Gassen, who will participate in this year’s events. Donor Network spokeswoman Paula Valle says that some families of donors who contributed their organs after death will be at the games, cheering. “It’s very moving,” Valle said. “There’s definitely an emotional element to the games because of that.” Josh Fernandez can be reached at