The Heart of a Champion

Published in The Vaughan Citizen August 2009.

event-world_transplant_games-2009You can find David Maggiori on the baseball diamond practicing his pitching every Monday and Wednesday.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, the 14-year-old is in his parent’s basement, lifting weights and running on the treadmill. In between, the grade eight student from Vaughan is working on his badminton game or training with his sports coach.

It’s an impressive workout schedule, and even more impressive when you realize that just last October Maggiori received a heart transplant that saved his life.

Now, only months later, he is preparing to compete at the 17th World Transplant Games in Australia this August.

“I am really looking forward to meeting people from around the world,” said Maggiori, a grade eight student at St. Claire Catholic Elementary School in Vaughan. “Especially because I will get to see other kids who have gone through the same things as me.”

Maggiori had been living with cardiomyopathy, a disease affecting the heart’s ability to pump blood to the rest of the body, since he was diagnosed at four months old.

He underwent mitral valve surgery in October 2008 at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital to stop blood from leaking back into his heart and lungs.

Five days later, Maggiori was in congestive heart failure and put on a Berlin Heart, a ventricular assist device that pumped the blood through his body for his weak heart.

He lay in a hospital bed, clinging to life as doctors waited for a suitable donor heart that would save him.

Then, just as suddenly, another family’s tragedy became the Maggioris’ salvation and David underwent successful transplant surgery.

The recovery took time, but Maggiori was back at home to enjoy the Holidays with his family.

Since January he has been building his strength back up to travel the 15,000 kilometers to Australia’s Gold Coast as one of 25 youth ages 10-18 that will represent Canada as a member of Team SickKids.

“It’s going to be a social and emotional experience,” said David’s mother, Patricia Maggiori. “You don’t know what to expect after your child has had a transplant, and it will be encouraging for our family to see people of all ages who are doing well after transplants.”

Stories like her sons’, she said, will hopefully help promote organ donation awareness in Canada.

“Someone made the decision to donate their organs and we are very grateful,” Patricia Maggiori said. “People need to discuss this with their loved ones.”

Alison Drabble, a heart and lung transplant nurse in the Sick Kids cardiac transplant program, has been a Team SickKids coordinator since 2007 and sees a great link between the experience of the games and the vitality it brings to patients like David.

“It’s hard for them to get their mind around it first when I am talking about representing Canada in a sporting event, and they are still in bed with little energy,” Drabble said. “I use the games to talk about the potential they will have after they have healed.”

Drabble, who will be in Australia with Sick Kids physiotherapists Robin Deliva and Vanessa Pellow, said events like the Transplant Games, which was established in 1978, are a celebration of what these patients have overcome and also sends a strong message about what organ donation can do.

“When I go to the games and see those athletes I know every one of them, child or adult, would not be with us if someone did not have the courage to become an organ donor” Drabble said.

As the world’s largest organ donor awareness event, the World Transplant Games will attract up to 2,000 participants from approximately 50 countries this year.

Rosie McHugh, team manager at the Canadian Transplant Association, said the games promote the high levels of health and vitality that can be achieved after successful organ transplantation. They also give participants the chance to build a strong network with many other individuals and families who share similar experiences, she said.

David Maggiori will attend the eight-day sporting event with his mother, Patricia, father, Danny, and older sister, Andrea. He will be competing in singles badminton matches and boy’s ball throw.

Canadian athletes from six to 77 years of age will compete in a total of 14 Olympic-style events including track & field, swimming, tennis, badminton, bowling, cycling, and volleyball, McHugh said.

On their visit to the land Down Under, the Maggioris plan on visiting Sea World, attending a rugby match, and exploring the cities of Sydney and Brisbane.

Before his departure, Maggiori will be promoting transplant research and awareness at various charity events, such as the Sick Kids Telethon.

Although he has little recollection of the three open-heart surgeries he underwent in 10 days, Maggiori says the ordeal has given him a new-found appreciation for his friends and family.

“I am thankful for all of their support,” he says. “Especially because I know everything can be taken away so easily.”

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