Woman recalls her journey to the World Transplant Games after kidney failure at 13

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Robyn Emslie forging her sporting career after surviving Chronic Glomerular Nephritis a kidney failure disease at age 13.
Robyn Emslie forging her sporting career after surviving Chronic Glomerular Nephritis a kidney failure disease at age 13.
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  • A 49-year-old woman who had kidney failure at the age of 13 is embracing her second chance at life.
  • After getting a kidney transplant in 2008, she began a career in lawn bowls.
  • She is getting ready to compete at the World Transplant Games next year.

She nearly died of kidney failure at the age of 13 but today, 49-year-old Robyn Emslie is getting ready to participate in the World Transplant Games (WTG) in Australia.

After competing on a national level in Bloemfontein in July, she qualified in three categories - lawn bowls, pétanque, and darts - for the WTG, which is expected to take place next year.

Emslie is a member of the Transplant Sports Association, which encourages transplant recipients to lead active lifestyles and participate in sports.

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It's not her first major lawn bowls tournament, and it's also not her first WTG.

A few months after her surgery in 2008, she jumped at the opportunity to compete in the National Transplant Games.

The following year, she was part of the national team that participated in the WTG in Australia.

She also won gold in lawn bowls at the WTG in Durban in 2013.

Emslie recalls that she was a bubbly, active child who grew up around older brothers who played soccer and cricket in the backyard.

However, she became withdrawn after she was diagnosed with a kidney failure disease called chronic glomerulonephritis at the age of 13.

She said:

The doctor's words to me at the time were that one day I would need a kidney transplant.

She received a strong dose of cortisone to slow down the progression of the illness, but that came with side-effects.

"I gained so much weight. You can imagine this 13-year-old gaining weight out of nowhere. That made me very self-conscious and I just withdrew from people around me.

"Some nights, I could not sleep because the pills made me hyperactive. My mom would sit with me so we could talk all night because I could not sleep," she said.

Although the treatment worked, she had no energy and battled to walk. On some days, she struggled to lift her head from her pillow and get up to go to the bathroom.

"It was like watching time go by in front of you. I could see that my kidneys were deteriorating more and more as the years went by. Those were scary days," she said.

Emslie par participated in the nationals that took
Emslie participated in the nationals that took place in Bloemfontein in July 2022. She and qualified for three games including Lawn Balls, Petanque and Darts for the WTG in Australia 2023.

Without a kidney donation in time, she found herself undergoing dialysis in Cape Town - a process she described as dreadful.

The wait for a new kidney

"I had hopes of getting a transplant in time, but my parents were old at that stage and not well enough to donate. My brothers had health issues of their own and could not donate," she said.

Emslie added:

Despite my husband's desire to donate, he was unable to do so as he had a similar health issue. But fortunately for him, it was not chronic. Even then, doctors could not take that risk.

She said her dialysis process lasted for six months until she was told that her sister-in-law wanted to get tested to see if she could donate a kidney.

"I just fell to my back because it was unexpected.

"After tests came back, we found out she was a match. We completed all the paperwork and the formalities and the doctors gave me the date of the transplant. It was 12 February 2008. I couldn't believe it. Knowing that I was going back to being normal was the best feeling," Emslie said.

Embracing her second chance

A celebratory moment in 2013 as Robyn won her gold
A celebratory moment in 2013 as Robyn won her gold medal in lawn balls in Durban during the Word Transplant Games.

Emslie said a friend later introduced her to lawn bowls, which she enjoyed. 

"My doctors approved it because it wasn't a hectic sport for my condition. In 2008 [in] July, I went to present my story at the Renal Congress in Durban, where I was approached by a member of the South African Transplant Sports Association (Satsa) who offered me a chance to play any sport they offered," she said.

Emslie hasn't looked back since and has participated in various games.

"My greatest moment is getting together with my 'transplant family' for the game. It's like long-lost family members... So that family and camaraderie is amazing, and hearing them share their stories is most inspiring," she said.

"Get out there and live your life and do the things that you want. Given a second chance, you have got to grab it with both hands and just celebrate," Emslie advised.


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