By Lenard Yen, Liver Transplant Recipient
I caught up with Jon Baird recently and asked him if he would share some of his experiences of his workout routine and how far he has come from a liver transplant nearly 20 years ago. He has risen to the occasion more times than I can imagine of being the post-race celebration, all-star cookie provider! Having completed nine half-marathons in the six years that he has been with Team Transplant. Back in June, 2008, one of our newest members, Carla Trulson-Essenberg, completed Seattle’s Inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon. Congratulations to both and thanks for sharing your stories with us!
Q: When and what type of organ transplant did you have?
Jon: I had a liver transplant beginning on the evening of January 19, 1996, ending the morning of January 20, as a result of cryptogenic cirrhosis of the liver; and I remember that day as though it were yesterday. I’d been placed on the waiting list in April of 1995 – so a total of nine months on the waiting list. It’s now early 2015, and I’m less than a year away from my 20th anniversary!
Carla: I had a double lung transplant on Halloween of 2004 for bronchiectasis with Pseudomonas. I had been on “the list” for only 5 days.
Q: What attracted you to UWMC Team Transplant? What’s your favorite part of being on the team?
Jon: As we transplant recipients know all too well, the immunosuppressants that prevent our bodies from rejecting the transplant, are rough on the kidneys; so I’d been referred to Dr. Connie Davis, then head of the UWMC kidney transplant program, for monitoring in 2005. She knew I’d been walking as a form of exercise and weight management and suggested I contact Alysun Deckert, coach of Team Transplant, to learn about the team. I resisted for a few years, then with a second reminder from Dr. Davis in 2008, discovered that Alysun is eminently googleable; so I contacted her. Within a month I was training for my first half marathon. My favorite part of being on the team is meeting such encouraging people and getting to walk in all the many locations we train at–some which I had not been to before. Being on Team Transplant gives me an intermediate goal of maintaining my exercise regimen and fitness levels for the “next half marathon.” I think of each half marathon as individual steps in the greater half marathon of life. I’ve been blessed with close familial relationships, although they’re all long distance. Team Transplant members have become my extended Seattle family. We’ve all either gone through the transplant process, are friends and family of someone who’s gone through the process, or understand the process medically and are engaged in treating patients. With that common background and understanding, the Team is a supportive group that actively encourages all members to succeed.
Carla: Susan Bussell, the dietitian in the lung transplant clinic, is how I found out about Team Transplant. She was a speaker at our Lung Transplant Support Group Meeting in February of ’09 and mentioned Team Transplant and the Rock ’n’ Roll marathon. I e-mailed her and asked if people could walk this. She said yes, referred me to Alysun and the rest is history.
Q: Were you active before your transplant?
Carla: I have not been very active due to a lifelong history of lung problems. I could not even walk to the mailbox (with oxygen) before my surgery.
Jon: No, I was not! Walking up a flight of stairs was akin to climbing Mt Rainier. Being “active” meant attempting to maintain my health until the transplant.
Q: What roles have nutrition and exercise played in your post-transplant recovery?
Carla: It has been such a delight to be able to do things I could only dream of before. I love to walk and generally will walk four to five miles a day in the “nice weather” months. Alas, I have put on 40 pounds since surgery even with keeping a journal and really being conscientious about what I eat. My meds (including Prednisone) have really affected my weight.
Jon: Exercise and nutrition have played a huge part in my recovery. Some serious post-transplant complications delayed my recovery; it was a year before I started feeling better. My weight “blossomed” to 265 pounds as a result of medication side effects and the fact that my appetite recovered far sooner than my energy levels. Four years post-transplant I came to the conclusion that I was actually going to survive the transplant! This motivated me to begin a walking program independently of Team Transplant and seriously evaluate my nutritional intake and energy consumption. Now I try to walk my 5.25-mile route every day it’s not raining, and being on Team Transplant provides that additional motivation to maintain my exercise regimen.
Q: Can you describe the process of getting into shape after your surgery?
Jon: When I began exercising in 2000, my exercise tolerance was very low. I had to start with strolls of one to two miles until it became more comfortable for me to go longer distances. Soon, though, I was up to three miles in varying terrain and gradually worked my way up to going longer distances. Before I discovered my current route along a paved trail, I utilized various street routes and sometimes walked them multiple times a day.
Carla: I had a difficult recovery but after three months I began to thrive and experienced such joy at being able to breathe and exercise without problems. I gradually worked up to walking four to five miles a day. I go to the gym four times a week for weights and treadmill work and my goal is to be fit.
Q: What does it mean for you to be able to complete a half marathon after your transplant? What are your future goals for training?
: Although the half marathon was an inconceivably long distance to walk without a break, it was less about doing a half marathon that it was the motivational impetus to maintain a consistent exercise program, which was difficult for me to maintain on my own. As I walked my first marathon, I began to understand the huge accomplishment this was and was moved by all the people cheering on the participants. Exercise will play prominently in my future endeavors. I intend to travel but would prefer more active themes with walking a large part of those themes.
Carla: It was very important for me to do this marathon because it was a challenge (I like challenges) and something I could NOT have done at any point in my life prior to transplant. I injured my spring ligament in my left foot about three weeks before the race (on the Galer Street hill) and was concerned I might not be able to compete. But with PT and taping, I did not feel it would be a problem for the race but held off doing any hills until the half-marathon. About mile 10, I reinjured it and had to slow up a bit. After I crossed the finish line and found my husband Dave, I just broke down in tears because the enormity of what I had just done really hit me.
My future goals for training are to begin doing intervals on the treadmill again after this re-injury heals. Then I’d like to start training with the Team (my husband wants to join, too) and stay in shape. I’ve not decided about the Seattle Marathon yet but definitely want to train as if I am. I’ll be the first to admit I do not like to walk in inclement weather!
Q: Do you have any training tips you’d like to share?
Carla: Team Transplant “Fourteen Half-Marathon Ron” (Heart transplant recipient, Ron Adkins) told me to start out slow, which seems to be wise advice. It is also helpful to walk near someone who is a bit faster than you to help motivate you–in my case this person was Vanessa, one of the liver transplant recipients on the team. I found that the adrenaline rush of being in the Rock ’n’ Roll half-marathon really helps you to increase and maintain your pace.
Jon: I’d recommend that anyone training for a half marathon do their best to maintain a consistent schedule of exercise. The longer weekend walks with Team Transplant are essential, but it’s the weekday training consistency that gets you over the finish line. It’s easier to maintain that consistency when you have someone to talk to, someone to encourage you, whether family member or team member. Don’t be put off by injuries or lack of progress! It’s important for everyone just to get moving!