Sporting triumph for transplant teenager Zoe at Belfast games

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Lerwick lass Zoe Buchanan has achieved a lifetime’s ambition of winning a gold sporting medal for Scotland – 17 months after having a kidney transplant.

Sporty Zoe, 16 next week, won gold in badminton, her favourite sport, which she took up at the age of eight. Besides that she won four other medals in various events in the British Transplant Games, which are open to people who have had a major organ transplant and are held to raise awareness of transplants and to forge friendships among families.

Now back from Belfast where the games were held, Zoe is thrilled with her achievement, made possible by the kidney donated by her mother Jill Bentley last March. In the games, in which teams of transplant patients from all the major cities and areas of the UK compete, Zoe took part in five events and won five medals – silvers for table tennis and the team relay and bronzes for the ball throw and 100 metres sprint, as well as gold for badminton.

Zoe said: “It’s always been my ambition to compete for Scotland and when I won that gold I was jumping for joy.”

Jill, who with her partner Colin Nicolson supported Zoe at the games, said of her daughter’s success: “Winning gold was the highlight of her whole life.”

As a donor Jill was able to take part in the donors’ race, a three-kilometre fun run. She said: “One of the biggest benefits [of the games] is meeting other families. Everyone has a different story. People don’t realise how people’s lives have been changed [by trans­plants]. My partner said he found it ‘incredibly humbling’.” Around 600 people took part in the games.

Zoe, who is a pupil at Anderson High School, has never let her condition stop her from taking part in sport. Although she has suffered from reduced renal function all her life she loved badminton and also enjoyed football and BMX stunt biking. At 11 she was accepted into the badminton junior development squad and has competed for them at inter-county level ever since.

Zoe’s condition became much worse when she was about 12. She had to have 10 hours of dialysis every night. But Jill said: “Zoe was always very determined and this made her more determined. Four weeks before the transplant she took part in the Shetland open badminton championships and won the doubles.”

The transplant, which took place in a five hour operation at Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow, has changed Zoe’s life. Her energy and stamina levels have soared, she no longer sleeps up to 18 hours a day and manages much more time at school. Although she still faces “chal­lenges”, according to her mother and her condition will always present complications, things are “a lot more normal”.

Zoe’s love of sport had always given her a means of coping with her condition, and after the oper­ation the forthcoming games pro­vided a focus for her recovery.

Now back home, she is looking forward to playing badminton for Shetland under-18s, and possibly taking part in the next World Transplant Games, to be held next year in New York. These games are held bi-annually in various coun­tries around the world and are open to anyone over 16 who has had a transplant.

Zoe and Jill are very grateful for the help they received in getting to the games and extend a “big thank you” to the Shetland Kidney Patients Association and the Callum Younger Reach Fund for their financial support. Jill said: “It symbolised the reaching of goals that a few years ago would have been unthinkable.”

Thanks also go to coaches Anne and Brian Wood for extra training for Zoe over the summer.

Altogether the experience of the kidney donation and transplant has been worth the trauma, said Jill. “It’s well worth it to see Zoe not on the machine any more and to give her her teenage years.”


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