Matt DeFina wins big at transplant games


Courtesy of Sherri DeFina

Madera’s Matt DeFina shows off the 10 medals he won at the most recent Transplant Games of America.

 

It was a beautiful, sunny morning on July 31 in San Diego.


Cyclists, runners and swimmers all lined up at their respective events, ready to show the world what they could do. To the ordinary observer, they looked like any other athletes ready to compete. But upon closer inspection, one could see that each of them bore multiple scars from surgeries, medical ports and feeding tube sites. These were all organ donation recipients.


All of them had received at least one transplanted organ — lungs, livers, hearts, kidneys, pancreases, or intestines. All had been given a second, or even a third, chance at life. It was a miracle — and a gift — of organ donation from a stranger’s family in the midst of their deepest grief that had saved their lives.


Nearly 2,000 transplant athletes, supporters, team managers, and coaches converged upon San Diego for the 2022 Transplant Games of America, a sporting event for organ recipients, living donors, donor families, and tissue donation recipients.


For Madera native Matt DeFina, it was his fourth participation in competitive transplant games — two at the Transplant Games of America and two at the World Transplant Games.


A two-time double-lung transplant recipient, DeFina was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that predominantly affects the lungs by causing them to produce thick and sticky mucus. Faced with declining lung function and lung capacity, and increasingly dangerous lung infections, he went on the transplant list at Stanford Hospital, and received his first set of transplanted lungs in 2012.


Unfortunately, those lungs developed chronic rejection, a condition which he battled for eight years.


Despite that, and having only 35 percent lung function, DeFina went to Cleveland, Ohio, in 2016, for his first Transplant Games of America, and won seven medals.


Two more trips to the World Transplant Games — 2017 in Malaga, Spain, and 2019 in Newcastle, England — resulted in DeFina adding two more medals to his total.


However, in October 2019, his health had declined to the point that he was again placed on Stanford’s transplant list for new lungs.


In July of 2020, the miracle of organ donation occurred, again, and DeFina received his second set of transplanted lungs. This gift of life enabled him to continue living and doing the things that he loves, such as making memories with his family, cherishing time with friends, coaching young athletes, running a boutique winery in Napa Valley, and, most recently, competing in the 2022 Transplant Games of America in San Diego where he won a personal best of 10 medals in various competitions, including swimming, track & field, basketball, volleyball and pickleball.


As he celebrated the 10th anniversary of his transplant journey, which began in 2012, DeFina said, “To say that I’m blessed is an understatement! I’m eternally grateful to my donors and their families, my own family for their undying support, all of my friends who’ve cheered me on, and all of my extended supporters for their encouragement, as well. My goals are to honor my donors and their families, show the world that organ donation and transplantation works, and to be a positive example of hard work, perseverance, and fortitude to my own daughter and all of the young athletes who I coach. Those who know me best know that I’m going to push myself as long and hard as I can to compete! Never give up — always persevere!”


For DeFina, the story continues as he looks ahead to the 2023 World Transplant Games in Perth, Australia, as a member of Team USA.


To find out more about organ donation, or to register as an organ donor, visit www.donatelife.net. Your gift could save a life.