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Robbie Thompson, 11, has had two heart transplants, one as a toddler

Posted on 16/08/2009 12:00am

Courtenay boy to vie in Transplant Games

Robbie Thompson, 11, has had two heart transplants, one as a toddler

Matthew Pearson, Times Colonist
Published: Sunday, August 16, 2009

Robbie Thompson hasn't won a medal yet, but the 11-year-old has already shown he's got more heart than most athletes.

The Courtenay boy was diagnosed with defective heart-muscle tissue at five months old and underwent heart-transplant surgery about a year later. When his body rejected the first heart, he received a second transplanted heart at age five.

Fast forward six years, and Robbie is busy training for the World Transplant Games. He and his family leave Tuesday for Australia's Gold Coast, where the games will be held later this month.

The 40-kilogram, floppy-haired boy will be one of 1,500 athletes from close to 70 countries attending the games. He'll compete in three swimming events and one cycling event.

Bringing home a medal would be nice, but Robbie said just participating in the games is good enough for him.

"I already have my heart and I'm happy with that," he said.

His mother, Sue Thompson, said Robbie, whose weak muscle tissue makes writing and physical activities difficult, has blossomed athletically while training for the games. He was dogpaddling in the pool in May and can now swim up to five lengths of a 25-metre pool during a half-hour lesson. He's even shown an interest in joining the local swim team.

"He's come a long way," she said.

Training for the games has been a challenge, but Thompson said Robbie --who's going into Grade 6 at NorthIslandDistanceEducationSchool -- was determined to succeed.

"The games are a good opportunity for him to participate with other kids that have the same challenges as him."

One of those kids is a boy from Barrie, Ont., named Seth. Robbie and Seth were both in B.C. Children's Hospital as babies. They both received heart transplants and their families have kept in touch over the years.

Thompson said the Courtenay community has supported Robbie throughout his life. A silent auction at his school raised $2,500 to send him to the games.

Meanwhile, a bike store in Australia is donating a bike for Robbie to use while he's competing, saving his family the trouble and expense of shipping his bike from Canada.

B.C. Transplant spokeswoman Lisa Despins said the games shine a positive light on organ transplants and give recipients a reason to celebrate. "They're able to show the world the success of organ transplants," she said.

More than 4,500 people in B.C. have received organ transplants since 1968. Last year, the province became the first in Canada to introduce online registration for organ donation.