Shelby Gielen had two liver transplants and continues to swim competitively. (CONTRIBUTED)

Maple Ridge double-transplant swimmer takes home gold medals

Shelby Gielen was given 12 hours to live at age 14, before she received her first liver transplant.

It was a gift that saved her life, but one that had a definite time limit on it.

And now Shelby Gielen is wondering again, if she’ll need another.

Gielen, who just won two gold and silver medals at the Canadian Transplant Games at UBC last week, received her first liver transplant when she was 14.

It was an emergency surgery and she was given less than 12 hours to live. Within that time a donor match was found and at that young age, she recovered quickly.

Gielen learned soon after that she had contracted Hepatitis B from the donor liver and was given five years to live. But she survived with the first transplant for more than 13 years. However, after that time she learned once again that her liver was about to fail and that she had just three months to live.

“Planned my funeral, sold my car, wrote notes for my siblings, and got my estate plan. It was crazy doing that at age 27.”

A month before what Gielen deemed her ‘expiry date,’ she received a call from the Canadian Liver Foundation who wanted to try an experimental procedure for another liver transplant. She had the procedure and her body accepted the second liver.

“Organs are so hard to come by, there’s a process to get on the waitlist, certain criteria. You get on the waitlist when you’re sick enough,” said Gielen.

Gielen said she suspects she will need a third liver transplant. Despite her intuitions of declining health, Gielen continues to push herself to live her best life.

She has continued swimming competitively. Post-transplant, Gielen joined the UBC swim team and made nationals within her first year.

“When you’re living with chronic pain, you have to make sure you can find an outlet so you’re not feeling that pain when you’re distracting yourself in a healthy outlet, while doing something for yourself and your body. The human body is not meant to be in that much constant pain.”

A low-impact activity like swimming is perfect Gielan said, and she enjoys the competition.

“I’ve had to learn to tone it down and it’s really, really hard. The biggest struggle is learning to pull back the reins,” said Gielen.

Gielen held back tears as she recalled a race she had this week against a fellow competitor who had a double lung transplant. It’s moments like these with other transplant recipients that motivate Gielen to keep swimming.

“We’re in the locker room comparing scars, medications, asking questions, sharing stories. All of us are blown away with each others’ stories. We are all inspiring.” said Gielen.

Gielen plans on swimming as long as she’s healthy enough to do so.

“I know I’m pushing it and I overdo it, but sometimes it’s worth it because I’m making memories. I don’t know how much longer I may be here, and if I’ll go to another (transplant) games. Some people won’t understand why I push myself just to crash the next day, but it’s because I live with a time limit and I want to make memories.”

Gielen said she has two big goals for the future.

“I’d like to stay alive,” Gielen laughed. “My biggest goal is to increase the donor registry by about 50-100 thousand registers. And to stay alive. It’s pretty simple.”

Those interested in becoming a donor can do so at the online transplant registry.

Just Posted

No easy way to stop drowning deaths in Maple Ridge park

Not sure if signs make difference, said search and rescue

Nominations sought for the Extraordinary Senior Award

Deadline for nominations is July 31

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows MP Dan Ruimy pleased with Trudeau cabinet shuffle

Ruimy says shuffle focuses on top priorities; Conservatives say it’s an admission of failure.

Maple Ridge action team gets funding to fight drug crisis

Grant of $100,000 announced by ministry of mental health

Stolen sunshade puts damper on Lower Mainland woman’s pet-relief effort

Broken umbrella taken from White Rock lawn ‘within 10 minutes’

Woman charged after eight dogs seized from hotel room

Sixteen dogs recently seized from Adams and her daughter in Quesnel

Owner of B.C. fruit stand recounts ‘flames popping up everywhere’ from wildfire

The Mount Eneas wildfire is burning at about 200 hectares south of Peachland

VIDEO: Lower Mainland city introduces ‘a new way to play’

Upgraded playgrounds and public playboxes unveiled in Langley City

Ontario, Saskatchewan premiers join together to oppose federal carbon plan

Saskatchewan is already involved in a court case over the tax

For-profit ridesharing legislation long overdue: BC Conservatives

Interim party leader Scott Anderson said the provincial government should step out of the way

5 to start your day

A woman is dead in a Mission crash, friends celebrate life of South Surrey train victim and more

One dead after fatal motorcycle crash on BC’s Highway 11

Mission RCMP are investigating a crash that claimed one life

Most Read