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  • Writer's pictureCRAIG BRYAN

She Hit the Gym to Be Strong Enough for an Organ Transplant

Yvette Matthews hired a personal trainer after she started moving up the list for a liver transplant in 2011. At 57, she wanted to ensure she was fit -- because any doubt that she could survive the rigors of a transplant could mean being denied.

Yvette, the daughter of a Division I college football player, had exercised all her life. She still weighed the same as when she was in high school and was a dutiful walker and runner. Still, she wanted to be sure.

“It was pure fear that they were going to tell me I was not well enough to receive the transplant,” Yvette says. “There were days I could barely lift a weight, barely walk up the stairs.”

Yvette received her new liver in February 2013, convinced that fitness saved her life. Her story shows another powerful reason to stay in good physical condition in our mature years – so we can handle what comes at us, from knee replacements to other surgeries and more.

And for thousands of people over 50 needing organ transplants, Yvette is a case study in perseverance.

People Over 50 Are Active Donors

In July 2021, more than 107,000 Americans need a lifesaving organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the private, non-profit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant system under contract with the federal government.

A third of donated organs in 2019 came from people over 50, says the US Health Services & Resource Administration.

“In 2019, about 63% of all the people who received organ transplants were 50 or older. You're never too old to make a difference,” the government says. “Over 21% of all receiving patients were 65 or older.”

Kidney, heart, lung, pancreas and lung transplants are among the most common.

‘A Little Spark of Energy in You’

In 2012, Matthews was weak, jaundiced, and retaining fluid.

She took several steps that helped. First, she went to the gym two to three times a week, using Nautilus machines when able. Second, as her rare liver disease progressed, she hired a trainer, who was inspiring.

“She was so positive every time we got together,” Matthews said. “She would say to me, ‘Give me one more rep, just one more. You can do it.’”

Third, when winter came, Yvette still went for daily walks outdoors for at least 30 minutes.

A year after her procedure, Yvette entered nine events in the World Transplant Games in Houston. She medaled in all nine and won five. In 2022, she will return to the National Senior Games.

“I learned that no matter how tired you are, there is still a little spark of energy in you,” she says. “No matter how sick you feel, you can always get up.”

>You can register to become a donor here.

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