Racing forward: A recipient’s journey from transplant to half marathon
By Ameen Tabatabai, liver recipient
For as long as I can remember, playing sports and staying active has been my lifestyle. When I was in elementary school, I played basketball all day, every day. I dribbled the basketball to school, shot hoops before the bell rang, played pick-up games at recess, dribbled the basketball home, went to practice in the evenings, and played in recreational league games on the weekends. I would finish my homework as soon as I got home so I that could watch the Sonics games with my brother. Then the next day, I would try new shots and lay-ups that I had seen Gary Payton perform the night before. I would even lace up in a brand new pair of Air Jordans every season. I was engulfed by basketball culture. As far as my family and friends knew, I was a healthy kid, energetic about being active.
Out of nowhere, I was suddenly diagnosed with liver disease at 10 years old. It was a complete shock. I now had to take medications and change my lifestyle. My doctors made it clear early on that I could no longer play basketball because of the contact. The one activity that I had so much love for was taken away from me. Any basketball dreams I had were over. At that point, I needed a place to channel all that energy. I put all my focus and work into academics. I realized this was something I could control. Physically, my liver disease was progressing and I felt there was not much I could do to improve my condition. So, studying and learning new subjects was an easy way for me to free my mind of my medical struggle. Instead of practicing the game of basketball, I started studying and reading books. My success in school is what kept me going and motivated. I could not manage basketball and liver disease, but school and liver disease was something I mastered and accepted.
Eventually, my health continued to decline and I had to take time off from school. Since I was diagnosed, I always dreaded the idea of needing a liver transplant. I was not only scared of the difficult surgery, but also worried about the restrictions it would place on my life afterwards. In 2010, I had no choice but to take that route. But, I accepted it and viewed liver transplant as another challenge I would conquer. I was confident that by completing what would be the hardest chapter of my life, I would open countless more doors. As I focused on my surgery, I would imagine my life after my transplant and rejoice at the possibility of one day living without limitations and in full health. That’s what pushed me. I wanted it because for so long, liver disease had held me back from being myself and fully enjoying this world. After a successful 11-hour surgery, I had a new liver. The recovery itself was another journey, but ultimately, liver transplantation changed me. I had a new perspective. I was ready to honor my donor’s gift by showing the world that everything and anything is achievable after a liver transplant. I now had a fire and passion in me that I had never felt before. I couldn’t wait to do more that I had ever imagined. I was motivated and focused.
All these years, there was something missing in my life, and I did not realize what it was until liver transplantation gave it back to me. Shortly after my recovery, I eagerly joined UWMC Team Transplant. I was ready to increase my fitness level and gain the strength and physical health that I never had. At first when my confidence was low and my fear was high, Coach
Alysun Deckert pushed and encouraged me. She introduced me to all the inspiring transplant recipients that were runners and walkers on the team and gave me living proof that I could do it. With each mile and the support of my team, I gained more confidence. I was setting new records. I was reaching new heights and continually pushing myself to the next level because I could see the potential. Team Transplant helped me not only realize what my new body was capable of but also what I had been missing in my life for so long. I missed the active lifestyle I had when I played and competed in basketball. With the completion of each half marathon, I competed with myself, improved my time, and physically felt better than I ever had in my life. I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line after my first half marathon. I looked up to the sky, pointed, and thanked my donor for the gift of life. After several more races, I was eager for more and nothing would stop me. I started lifting weights and training on a daily basis. I even stepped back on the basketball court. The life that I had always imagined was now real and full of the fitness I truly missed.
As I look ahead, I want to show everyone that it’s not about what your life throws at you, it’s about what you do with it and how you adapt. I hope to inspire not only transplant recipients but also other individuals that they should never let anything limit their achievements. Never be afraid of change. Liver transplant changed me. It allowed me to finally become myself and pursue the dreams and activities I’ve always desired.
Ameen recently completed his fifth half marathon since receiving his liver transplant in 2010 at the 2014 Seattle Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon. To learn more about how a liver transplant works visit our Interactive Body on the Understanding Donation page.