Head over heart: 80-year-old’s resilience leads to Transplant Games
Johan Roos realised in 1999 he had a second shot at life - now he's training for the world stage
Johan Roos was 60 years old when he was told he only had 11 months to live. The only cure for him was a heart transplant.
Roos – suffering from cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle – put his name on the waiting list for a transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, starting a fearful and precarious journey. His heart stopped beating on two different occasions before his transplant, and he had to be resuscitated with electric shocks.
“I was never sure whether I would survive the next day, hour, minute. Death was my constant companion,” said Roos.
“But I woke up on the 7th of November 1999 with my new heart. I realised at that moment I had been given a second chance at life.”
Twenty years later and at 80 years old, Roos is now training for the World Transplant Games in Newcastle, UK, in August, to compete in discus, javelin, shot put, throw ball and pétanque.
“Never in my life I never imagined this,” said Roos.
“I want to be living proof of the progress medical science has made, not only to extend man’s life in a way it is worth living, but to demonstrate the improved quality of life after a transplant.”
The World Transplant Games, established in 1978, provides transplantees from more than 60 countries with a platform to compete in sporting events such as track and field. Roos has been practising for his events the past two years and has done all he can to stay in shape.
“I [train] on a daily basis. I do some runs around the track, running up and down steps, push-ups and sit-ups,” Roos told TimesSelect. “As I’ve said to many people, I’m not just doing this for myself, but for my country.”
Roos is joining 60 fellow South Africans competing in these games and hopes to honour the selfless individual who donated his heart so Roos could live.
He is relying on a donation campaign through the crowdsourcing organisation BackaBuddy to help cover the costs of his trip.
“I am campaigning to realise a dream that I could represent my country on an international basis and show the world that we are still a leading country in combating heart and other diseases,” said Roos, who also wants to raise awareness of the importance of donating organs.
But the challenge of raising money pales by comparison to the difficulties he has already overcome. At these games, Roos will continue to defy the odds, not just because of his transplant but also because of his age.
“I am probably the first 80-year-old transplant patient in the world to compete in these games,” he said. “I feel as ready as I can be. I’m looking forward to it, I’m positive.”
“Age is something in your mind. And in my mind I’m really young.”