London Transplant Recipients: Swimming in Lake Ontario will honor organ donors

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“It shows that you can do anything after a transplant”

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Norman De Bono Jillian Best plans to swim 52 kilometers across Lake Ontario to raise funds for the London Health Sciences Centre’s transplant department. Best received a liver transplant in 2016. Dr. Mayur Brahmania, left, doctor at the transplant station, will accompany Best while swimming in the boat. Liver transplant recipient Andy Moncrieff, center, is on the board of a foundation that Best founded, and Peter Denomme, right, helps organize the event. Photo taken in London on Monday 3rd May 2021. (Derek Ruttan / The London Free Press)

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When she slips into the cold waters of Lake Ontario to begin her grueling 18-hour swim, Jillian Best will think most of someone she doesn’t know and has never met – who saved her life.

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“I hope you see. I don’t know who you are, but I hope you are proud, I hope you are happy to see that, ”said Best.

Best is a liver transplant recipient who will undertake a 52-kilometer crossing of Lake Ontario from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto to raise awareness of transplant survivors and the organ transplant program at the London Health Sciences Center. Funds are also raised to help purchase new technology to make this program even better.

“I like to see what I can do and I set the bar high to see what I can do. I want to show what a transplant recipient can do when they get their life back from an organ transplant, ”said Best.

“It’s a way to honor my donor and show that I’m living my life to the fullest.”

Best, 34, received a new liver in 2016 and all she knows is that her organ came from a 21-year-old man who died in an accident. She hopes his family will find out about her swimming.

“I think about him every day. I thank his family and their decision to donate. It is so important.”

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After a winter of dry training, Best has recently visited pools and beaches and in the past few weeks swam nine hours in Port Stanley as part of her training, about half the distance of her swim in the lake. In the days leading up to her swim, she swam lightly, focusing on diet and relaxation.

“Things went well. I’ve finished my hard training and I think I’m in great shape and relaxed when I swim, ”she said. “I’m pretty excited and a little nervous.”

The best swimming diet consists of foods that they can eat in the water, such as bananas, baby food that can be easily eaten out of sachets, oreo cookies and maple syrup, and plenty of water and gatorade.

“Lots of calories, lots of carbohydrates,” she said of her diet.

She will arrive in Niagara-on-the-Lake on Monday and stay at a hotel so she can focus on resting and preparing at the last minute. She plans to go into the water at Queen’s Royal Park late Tuesday night so she can get through the nightly portion of the swim first, and expects to arrive in Toronto on Wednesday night.

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“We’ll look at the wind conditions and the currents. Ideally, you want to get the night part of your swim over with first, ”said Best.

She is accompanied by a 40-foot boat and two Zodiac boats. Her team consists of 13 people, including her husband and transplant surgeon, who will monitor her health.

“This is an example of what the transplant does. It saves lives, it restores the quality and function of life. It shows that you can do anything after a transplant, ”said Dr. Mayur Brahmania, her doctor in the transplant department.

“It’s going to be exciting. It’s been a while since I’ve stayed up 20 hours.”

Hopefully the swim can kick off a fundraising that will eventually run to $ 250,000-150,000 for a machine that will keep donated organs alive longer to extend the donation deadline and $ 100,000 to keep them up. In 2017, the London hospital couldn’t use 300 donated organs, but this technology – something called a normothermic regional profusion machine – would reduce that loss.

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Best founded and is director of the Move for Life Foundation and seeks donations on moveforlifefoundation.com. The foundation plans to hold events after the swim to help achieve the rest of their goal.

Best’s team has swimming experts and nutritionists, and her temperature is taken regularly to make sure she is not hypothermic.

“We are convinced of the medical plan. We have prepared for that. I am very confident, ”said Brahmania.

Best has an inherited blood vessel disorder that requires a new liver. Her mother, Bonnie Di Bernardo, 69, had two liver transplants. Best’s sister is now showing signs that she needs a new liver.

Only about 20 percent of people are registered as organ donors, although 90 percent say they would donate in surveys.

Marilyn Bell Park, your Toronto destination, is named for the first person to swim across Lake Ontario.

Swimming in Lake Ontario

What: Jillian Best, a liver transplant recipient in London, crosses the lake to support the Move for Life Foundation’s $ 250,000 goal to purchase new equipment for the London Health Sciences Centre’s transplant unit

Route: Niagara-on-the-Lake to Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto. Follow Best’s progress on the Move for Life Foundation Facebook page.

Donate:moveforlifefoundation.com

Organ donation: Register at beadonor.ca

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