The gift of life

Sunday, August 4, 2013

By Bhekisisa Mncube

Durban- In 1998, Daniel Matsoso woke up in the intensive care unit after suffering multiple organ failure.

“When I woke up, the doctors told me that both of my kidneys had permanently failed”.  

That was the beginning of his journey. Today, 37-year-old, Matsoso from Alexandra in Johannesburg,   is a kidney transplantee.

Before Matsoso’s kidneys failed, he had lived a fulfilling life as an athlete and a student at the Alexandra College training in hospitality management.

“I already had Gauteng colours – specialising in cross country and 3,000 metres steeplechase. My life was beautiful and the future looked bright,” he says.  

After the diagnoses of kidney failure, Matsoso began the dreaded procedure of dialysis - the artificial process of eliminating waste (diffusion) and unwanted water (ultrafiltration) from the blood. The procedure lasted four & half hours per session – three times a week.

“Due to the intensity of the dialysis, I lost everything. I dropped out of college, and stopped being an athlete. My girlfriend also left me. I was devastated,” he says. “I kept asking myself, Why me?”

Despite numerous pleas, none of his family members were prepared to give him the gift of life - a new kidney.

“Social workers tried to persuade my three brothers, mother and father to donate one of their kidneys but all attempts failed.”

It took four years of waiting for Matsoso to get a second chance in life. Somewhere in Bloemfontein, a young man attempted suicide and upon arrival in hospital, he was declared brain dead. The boy’s parents decided to donate all his organs.

“Out of the blue, I received a call from the hospital saying I had a match for the kidney transplant. I was overjoyed,” he remembers.

Matsoso’s transplant was performed in November 2002. Since the transplant, he says he is now living a double life – one for the donor and one for himself.

“I wrote a letter to the Social Workers to thank the donating family – I got a response that said - do well on behalf of our son”. He has never met this family nor had a chance to thank them in person as organ donation protocol precludes any gratuity to the organ donor or family.

Today, Matsoso is a multiple Gold and Silver Medalists and is currently competing in the World Transplant Games taking place in Durban. The event is the biggest organ donor event in the world, with approximately 1 800 participants from 50 countries competing.

In the current, games, the Johannesburg resident has already won gold for the five kilometre race.

In 2007, in Thailand, he won Silver for the five kilometre road race, Gold for the 1500m track & field, and Silver for the 800m race.

In 2009, in Australia he won Gold for the five kilometre road race and two Bronze Medals for the 800 and 1500 metres in track & field.

However, it was in Sweden in 2011 where he cleaned up the medial table – winning three Gold medals in the 1.5 kilometre road race, and two in the 800 and 1500 metres track & field events. 

“I am very happy with the way things turned out for me. After the transplant I was blessed with a son – now nine-years-old. I’ve got a job in one of the hotels in Johannesburg, and of course I am an organ donor,” he says with a wily smile.

Overcoming adversity

Along with Matsoso, Swedish national, Martha Ehlin, knows all about overcoming adversity.

Ehlin holds the record for being one of the few people in the world who has had five simultaneous new organs transplanted.

The 35-year-old athlete and physical education teacher by training holds the record as the only person with five new organs to win five gold medals at the World Transplant Games Sweden 2011.

She is also the only person in her country (Sweden) to have received five organs simultaneously – stomach, liver, pancreas, duodenum and small intestine. 

“In the World Transplant Games Sweden 2011, I entered five athletic events (volleyball, track & field, high jump, javelin, and ball throw) to pay tribute to each new organ I had received,” she recalls. She won in all events collecting all five Gold Medals.

Ehlin was diagnosed with a rare endocrine cancer – which are a mixed group of diseases in which cancer cells are found in tissues of the endocrine system, which includes the thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, parathyroid and pituitary glands.

Ehlin’s form of cancer began in the pancreas at the age of 30. “It spread to the liver and other organs quickly – doctors decided they had to change the whole package for me to survive.”

Ehlin was lucky; she waited for only nine months to get the “whole package”. In the current games, she hopes to win more medals as she is participating in seven sporting codes.

Acute organ shortages

According to the South African Organ Donor Foundation Executive Director Samantha Volschenk there is a general lack of awareness, and cultural and religious barriers to organ donation.

“Some 4 300 South African adults and children are languishing in various hospitals waiting for a miracle – to get a donor,” Volschenk explains.

The organisation says only 85 000 South Africans or 0.2 of the population are registered organ donors.

Volschenk confirms that less than 600 transplants are performed in South Africa annually due to the acute shortage of organ donors.

The 2011 Organ Donor Foundation figures show that there were 556 organ and cornea transplants. 337 of these were solid organ transplants which include hearts, liver, lungs, kidneys, and pancreas.

About 224 kidney transplants were done in 2011 alone, of these 36 percent of kidney donors were related to the recipient.

“Our target for 2013 is to sign up 50 000 organ donors, hence our support for the 19th World Transplant Games 2013,” she says. 

Speaking at the games official opening earlier this week, eThekwini Metro Municipality Mayor Councillor James Nxumalo made an impassioned plea to the people of South Africa to register as organ donors.

Nxumalo said the World Transplant Games; “represent hope and triumph of the human spirit”.

“They serve to highlight to us the importance of organ donation in saving lives and giving an individual a second chance to live a full productive life. It’s about time we changed our perception about organ donation. I plead for more organ donors to come forward and give a gift of life to another human being,” he said.

World Transplant Games Federation President, Olivier Coustere, said: “Countries that have hosted the transplant games have experienced a 30 percent or higher increase in organ donation rates.”

For more information about being an organ donor contact the toll free line 0800 22 66 11 or visit the Organ Donor Foundation website on –