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Barb ShebleBarb Sheble, World Transplant Games athlete (Submitted photo)
While still a college student competing in field events in 1991, Kansas City, Kan., resident Barb Sheble first experienced heart problems. Then began 18 years of dealing with heart issues, until a heart transplant in 2009.
Sheble is using her second chance at life to not just continue with athletics and her career, but also to help promote organ donations.
Sheble, 41, will be the only athlete representing the Kansas City area at the World Transplant Games July 28-Aug. 3 in Durban, South Africa. Her events will be the shot put, discus, javelin and softball throw. She also competed in last year’s USA Transplant Games in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she won two gold medals in track and field for the shot put and discus.
“It’s more than about going and winning,” Sheble said. “The games themselves are such a blessing, they’re really about promoting organ transplants and honoring the donors.”
As people come to understand more about organ transplants and the difference they can make in people’s lives, they will be more likely to become donors, she believes.
She is a member of the Transplant Recipient International Organization, which is helping to make people aware of and promote organ transplants.
While some people may think those who have transplants can’t do much, “we’re doing what everybody else can do, living life and having fun,” Sheble said. “It’s quite amazing and impressive.”
Now a medical technologist for an outpatient facility of the University of Kansas Hospital, Sheble was just a freshman at Kansas City Kansas Community College when she experienced symptoms of heart trouble. Eventually it was diagnosed as arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. She had been an athlete at Bishop Ward High School, where she still holds the school record for the discus.
Although her heart condition before the transplant slowed down her life, she went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Emporia State University in 1994, a med tech degree from KU in 1995, and went to work in her field.
She’s sure that the heart transplant in 2009 at St. Luke’s Hospital saved her life.
“I would not be here today if I did not have it,” Sheble said.
The doctors, after the transplant, told her it was worse than they thought, that the whole right side of her heart was dead. “After the doctor’s first visit after the hospitalization, she kept telling me, ‘We’re so impressed with you,’” Sheble said.
Leading up to the transplant, Sheble still had been working four hours a day.
“I always had the attitude of I’m going to keep going,” she said. “I think that’s an important way to go through life. Everybody has ups and downs, it’s the attitude you take through it, whether you make it through or not. It’s been quite a ride.”
She’s definitely able to do more than she used to do, she said.
“Over time, you compensate,” she said about living for a long time with heart disease. “You might be more tired, and your body gets used to it, you don’t feel so tired. It isn’t until after the transplant that you recognized how tired you really were and how worn out you really were.”
Barb has been practicing for her events recently. At the USA Transplant Games last year in Michigan, it had been about 20 or so years since she competed in the discus and shot put.
“The overall idea of throwing came back, but I don’t have the distance I had then,” she said.
The competition is not so much about winning as it is about having a second chance, having fun and encouraging people to help others to receive a second chance.
“We were at the transplant games last summer, and the attitude of the people is just amazing, because they really have that different look at life, they know how close they were to not being here,” said Barb’s sister, Nancy. “It’s really wonderful to see.”
Barb will be updating a Facebook page while she is at the World Transplant Games. The page is online at https://www.facebook.com/KckTransplantAthlete?fref=ts.