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New lungs allow Elmira man to take part in competition

Ed Speers returned with top-three finishes in all his events, the 100-metre sprint, 5K walk and the long jump. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]

A double-lung transplant isn’t stopping Ed Speers and other transplant patients from getting active in some healthy competition.

Ed Speers returned with top-three finishes in all his events, the 100-metre sprint, 5K walk and the long jump.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Ed Speers returned with top-three finishes in all his events, the 100-metre sprint, 5K walk and the long jump. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
The Elmira man was one of 100 participants in the 2014 Canadian Transplant Games, held in Moncton, New Brunswick last month.
The games are held every other year and feature golf, running, table tennis, swimming, badminton, bowling, lawn bowling, tennis, track and field, a triathlon, and cycling. Speers says the aim of the games is to celebrate life and raise awareness about the increasing need for organ donation.
“It takes just two minutes to sign up,” Speers said. “You can save up to eight lives and affect the lives of so many more with tissue transplants.”
Speers had his double-lung transplant in 2012, 11 months after being put on the waiting list. He said patients are added to the organ transplant list once their doctor feels they’re within two years of dying if they don’t receive a new organ.
Those in need of a transplant are matched up with donors based on blood type, antibodies, and especially important for lungs, size.
He spent 11 years hooked up to an oxygen tank before his transplant due to a genetic condition that causes early onset emphysema. The former electrician has lived in Elmira for 30 years.
Bad lungs run in Speers’ family. The same condition afflicted two of his brothers, one of whom passed away in 2008.
He chose the 100-metre sprint, 5-kilometre walk, and long jump as his events. Participants, who ranged in age from 4 to 79, can compete in up to five events.
For his age group he placed in the top three for all of his events, earning first in the sprint, third in the walk, and third in long jump. He plans to give his medals to his donor family.
“The point of having the games is to say there is a great life after a transplant.”
The host city chooses a sport common for their area to showcase. For Moncton, that was washer toss, something Speers had never played, but says was very popular at the games.
Speers can’t help but emphasize how blessed he feels for the lung capacity he has since the transplant nearly two years ago. There’s no saying how long the lungs will last, but so far so good. He said he wanted to be jogging by now, but that will come.
According to recent statistics, every three days someone in Ontario dies waiting for a donor transplant. There are 1,513 people waiting right now and with a donation rate of 25 per cent, the odds are stacked against them. Of those, 88 are waiting for new lungs.
“It’s a time in your life when you no longer need them,” Speers said. “It gives people their life back.”
And even if you sign up as a donor, it becomes your family’s decision after you die. Despite this, more than 90 per cent of families consent to organ donation if their loved one had signed up for it before they died. Of those who haven’t signed up, only 50 per cent of families agree to organ donation.
There were 131 lung transplants done in Ontario last year, out of a total 972 transplants in the province.
“It touches pretty close to the heart when you talk about organ donation,” Speers said. “It’s pretty critical to a lot of people.”
The next games will be in Toronto and Speers plans to go again. This time he’d like to help volunteer if there are any spots open. The Moncton games had so many volunteers they had to turn people away.
For more information about becoming a donor visit www.beadonor.ca or www.canadiantransplantassociation.com.
“It saved my life,” Speers said.

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