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From lung transplant surgery to international sporting success

From lung transplant surgery to international sporting success: Dutch athlete honoured with European lung health award

Amsterdam, the Netherlands - A lung transplant patient who has gone on to attain sporting success at the World Transplant Games has been given the annual European Lung Foundation award for inspiring others through his achievements.

57-year old André Lassooij from Netherlands, received the award today (26 September, 2015) at the European Respiratory Society's International Congress in Amsterdam.

The award coincides with the launch of the second Healthy Lungs for Life campaign, which this year celebrates the key message, 'take the active option'.

André was in his early thirties when he was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. In time he found it increasingly difficult to do exercise or be physically active. André frequently found himself in hospital, needing supplementary oxygen to help him breathe. When he was offered a double-lung transplant from an unknown donor in 1996, André's life changed dramatically. Within 4 months, he was able to return to work – and even cycle there and back. In 1997, he took part in his first World Transplant Games and has competed in every subsequent year.

André has beat world records for the 100m and 200m sprint, and won gold medals in the high jump and long jump. In 2008, in a race against men who had never had a transplant, André became the Dutch national champion of the 200m sprint in his age group.

André campaigns tirelessly to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation. In 2014, he initiated a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro with people who had received organ transplants. He served as Vice President of the European Heart and Lung Transplant Federation and Chairman of the Dutch foundation of "Sport en Transplantatie" for several years.

On receiving the award, André commented: "It is a very humbling experience to receive this award. My achievements would not have been possible without my unknown donor. I am so thankful of this person for the opportunities I have had since my transplant and the complete lung transplant team of the University Medical Centre Groningen (UMCG).

"I was very ill before my transplant and one step away from dying. It is a true Gift of Life that I can now not only enjoy physical activity again but also compete and win medals at the World Transplant Games. I hope by receiving the ELF Award, I can encourage awareness that organ donation really saves lives and encourage all people, not just transplant recipients that you can take the active option and achieve their goals."

Dan Smyth, Chair of the European Lung Foundation, said: "André's positive attitude to life, his sporting achievements and his tireless efforts to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation are truly inspirational. The 'take the active option' message of this year's Healthy Lungs for Life campaign aims to draw attention to the benefits of physical activity for everyone, including among people living with a lung condition. There is a level that is right for each individual, whether that be at a highly athletic level like André, or by making smaller day-to-day changes like taking the stairs rather than a lift."

President, World Transplant Games Federation, Chris Thomas, commented: "André has been a leading figure in the Dutch team at the World Transplant Games for many years specialising in the sprints and the long jump and he regularly features on the medal podium for these events. In 2013 he was elected to the Council of the World Transplant Games and his insights as a regular competitor and his experience in both transplant and mainstream sports events are a positive addition to our deliberations. I see André as a great role model and ambassador for what can be achieved post-transplant – his successful climbing of Mount Kilimanjaro last year is a testament to his resolve. I heartily congratulate André on this richly deserved award and I look forward to working with him into the future for the betterment of transplant sports."

Notes to editors:

Find out more about the World Transplant Games

This year's ERS International Congress will see the launch of Healthy Lungs for Life; one of the largest ever lung health campaigns, raising awareness of the importance of healthy lungs through a full range of events, projects and promotional activities. In 2015, the theme is "Take the active option" to encourage physical activity. There is an appropriate level of physical activity for everyone – whether that means taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the next bus stop, or training to run a marathon. Find out more about the campaign and how you can get involved:

The European Lung Foundation (ELF) was founded by the European Respiratory Society (ERS) in 2000 with the aim of bringing together patients and the public with respiratory professionals to positively influence lung health. ELF works to communicate the latest developments in lung health to people with lung conditions, the public, policymakers and the media. ELF also gives people with lung diseases and the general public the opportunity to influence lung health research and guidelines at the European level. 

Press Office at ERS Congress in Amsterdam (Saturday 26, September - Wednesday 30, September 2015):

Lauren Anderson: +31655467578 or 

David Sadler: +31655467518