Meet the amazing team from Sheffield heading to the British Transplant Games

The straining sinews, sweat and cacophony of cheers are what you would expect at any sporting contest - but in another world many of these competitors would be 'ghosts'.

Tuesday, 25th July 2017, 4:29 pm
Updated Monday, 11th September 2017, 11:22 am
Some of the Sheffield team heading to this year's British Transplant Games

In a few days, hundreds of people will gather for the British Transplant Games in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, including a contingent of 10 from Sheffield.

They have been given a second chance at life after receiving organs, with Sheffield's team having undergone kidney transplants at the Northern General Hospital.

Bridey Greenway with just a few of the many medals she has collected over the years

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The annual games are a chance for competitors to celebrate the miracle of modern science and the donors who have transformed their worlds, and an opportunity to meet new friends and share their amazing stories.

But they also have a very serious goal - to raise public awareness of organ donation and encourage more people to sign up to the donor register.

Among those lining up at this year's competition - taking place from Thursday, July 27 to Sunday, July 30 - will be Bridey Greenway, from Chesterfield.

This will be her 14th games since getting her new kidney in 1999, and the keen swimmer has amassed a huge haul of medals in the pool over the years - including being named 'victor ludorum' as the outstanding athlete in her age group in 2003.

Bridey as a young girl with her late mother Kathleen

"It's lovely to see friends you've met over the years from different parts of the country. I've made friends here from everywhere from Scotland to Plymouth," says the 60-year-old, who works for Derbyshire County Council.

"It's an amazing atmosphere, with everyone celebrating the life they've been given back."

Bridey's mother Kathleen died from polycystic kidney disease when Bridey was aged just 14.

Bridey is one of 13 people in her family with the inherited condition to have undergone a transplant, including her son Adam, aged 34, with whom she competed at the 2014 games - just six months after receiving his new kidney.

Bridey with her son Adam, who has also competed at the British Transplant Games

"Mum taught me to swim when I was six and every time I get in the pool I think of her," she says.

"I can't thank my donor enough. When I look at my son and my grandchildren, I think how my mum never saw me grow up or got to meet her grandson.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful gift I've been given and I try to make the most of it every day."

Bridey would have struggled to complete a length of the pool while in renal failure, for which she underwent gruelling dialysis treatment, but after her transplant she could swim a mile in half an hour.

Lee Fenlon with his dad Michael, to whom he donated a kidney

She recently returned from the World Transplant Games in Malaga, where her two golds, a silver and a bronze helped Britain easily top the medal table.

More than 750 donor patients aged from two to 80-plus will compete at this year's British Transplant Games, in different age categories, at sports ranging from basketball and squash to snooker and fishing.

They will be joined by many living donors and the families of those whose organs saved others after their deaths, some of whom will also be competing.

Among them will be Lee Fenlon, from West Stockwith, Doncaster, who donated a kidney to his father Michael in 2015.

The 35-year-old, who has completed two marathons since the transplant, will compete in the 5km donor run and the swim and track relays.

"I took part in my first games last year and it was brilliant," says Lee, who works in Sheffield as an IT project manager.

Michael Fenlon in action at last year's British Transplant Games

"It was great to meet people who'd donated kidneys 20 years ago and talk to them about their experience. That was really reassuring.

"But for me the best part was spending time with my dad. As competitive as I am, the games for me is about enjoying the time we have together."

Michael, aged 59, first had a kidney transplant in the mid-noughties but it was eventually rejected by his body.

Just walking left him in agony at the time, but Lee says his dad has been a different man since his second transplant.

"People say having a transplant is almost like flicking on a light switch because you get so much energy, and that's how it was for Dad. It was the best gift I could give anyone," says Lee.

"We've always been close but this has brought us even closer. We shared a room last year and had a barrel of laughs, and I'm looking forward to it again this year."

People are currently required to sign up to the organ donor register if they want their body parts to be used to help others after their death.

But Lee backs calls for people to be automatically included unless they opt out, saying he thinks that is 'almost everyone's default position' these days.

The NHS recently revealed more than 50,000 people in the UK are alive today thanks to organ transplants - 36,300 of whom received new kidneys.

Nearly 4,800 people received a transplant last year, but at any one time there are still around 6,300 people on the waiting list for a new organ.

And while there are now a record 23.6 million people on the NHS Organ Donor Register, this is still only just over a third of the UK's population.

The UK has one of the lowest rates in Europe for families supporting organ donation and in 2014/15 only 57 per cent agreed to donate their family members' organs after they died. On average 43 per cent of relatives refuse permission for organ donation to take place.

The British Transplant Games are organised by the charity Transplant Sport and sponsored by Sheffield-based health company Westfield Health, which also supports the World Transplant Games.

Westfield Health is backing a campaign encouraging people to have the Donation Conversation, in an attempt to boost the family consent rate to 80 per cent by 2020.

Its chairman Graham Moore, who attends the British Transplant Games every year, said: "It's a tragedy that over 1,000 people die every year waiting for a transplant.

"The games are a great way to increase awareness of the need for organ donors and for athletes to demonstrate the benefits of organ donation. Not everyone can be a hero in life but we can all be heroes in death by making sure we're on the organ donor register.

"The games are the highlight of my year. When you watch the parade and see the hundreds of people taking part, you think if it wasn't for organ donation those people would be ghosts.

"What really moves me is seeing the youngsters, some of whom have had multiple transplants, taking part with such enthusiasm. The joy they bring is quite inspirational."

When the British Transplant Games took place in Sheffield in 2008, an extra 25,000 people joined the donor register in a matter of weeks, and the event proved such a success it returned to the city in 2013.

Charlotte Morton, manager of the Sheffield team heading to this year's games, understands well the difference it makes to people's lives.

Her husband Paul was 17 when he received a kidney in 1988, having been so ill he could barely walk and was unable to attend school.

He has attended the games every year since then, save for two years when he was battling cancer, and this year he hopes to compete in archery, 10-pin bowling and the 5km walk.

"Some people think because you've had a transplant you can't do this or that, but the games show they're normal people who can lead full lives and take part in sports and other activities," said Charlotte, from Bolsterstone in Stocksbridge.

* To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, visit


* In South Yorkshire, 945 people are known to be alive thanks to organ transplants. Nationally, the figure is 50,000

* In South Yorkshire, the number of people on the NHS Organ Donor Register has increased by a quarter over the past five years, from 331,000 to 415,000

* In Sheffield, there are now 171,000 people on the register, compared with 141,000 five years ago

* Public support for donation means more people in South Yorkshire are receiving lifesaving and life-enhancing transplants. Last year, 84 people in the region had transplants, compared with 64 five years ago

** Figures from Sheffield Teaching Hospitals

Young people competing in the British Transplant Games (photo by Dave Moore)
Bridey Greenway with just a few of the many medals she has collected over the years
Bridey as a young girl with her late mother Kathleen
Bridey with her son Adam, who has also competed at the British Transplant Games
Lee Fenlon with his dad Michael, to whom he donated a kidney
Michael Fenlon in action at last year's British Transplant Games
Young people competing in the British Transplant Games (photo by Dave Moore)