The 80-year-old athlete with a new heart and big dreams

 
 
 

The surgery took nine hours. By the time the doctors trudged out the operating theatre, Groote Schuur Hospital was at the centre of an international media hype. On 3 December 1967, the first human heart transplant took place right here in South Africa. A medical miracle at the time, the procedure is still transforming lives today. For Johan Roos, it’s given him not only a new heart, but a new course.

Later this year, 80-year-old Roos will be competing at the World Transplant Games in the United Kingdom. As far as he knows, he’ll be the first octogenarian to ever compete. The sporting event raises awareness about the success of transplants and the need for organ donation. South Africa has a critical shortage of donors. By encouraging others to contribute, more people like Roos can enjoy their lives to the fullest.

“Since the transplant, I wanted to direct this new-felt energy in a positive way and decided to use it in athletics,” Roos says. His strength defies society’s expectations for a transplant patient of his age. He has enough vitality to channel his energy into not one, but four events – discus, javelin, shot put, and throwball. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of South African doctors, people have opportunities to thrive in ways previously seen as impossible. Roos is now stronger than ever. With every beat of his heart, he’s defeats the odds.