File image: Martinique du Preez, jetting off to represent SA in the World Transplant Games in Spain

When doctors diagnosed Martinique du Preez, 20, with an uncommon kidney disease at the age of 14, they didn’t hold much hope for him and predicted that he would only live up to the age of 18.
It was in 2011 when du Preez, originally from Haarlem - a rural town in the Western Cape - suddenly developed chronic swelling on his body, including legs and and feet. After a visit to a local hospital and after several tests, he was eventually referred to Groote Schuur Hospital, where he was diagnosed with mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the small blood vessels or capillary loops in the kidneys.

The disease, which mainly affects children and young adults, is also associated with malignant tumours. Du Preez’s kidneys only had 25% functionality and he needed to be put on dialysis and wait for a kidney transplant.

Although his mother, Shantol September, was a perfect match to donate a kidney to her son, the disease was so aggressive that doctors advised against the donation, as the syndrome would attack the new kidney.

But in 2013, Du Preez, who moved to Cape Town with his family to be close to specialist doctors, was so sick from his illness that doctors were prepared to perform the transplant after all, using one of his mother’s kidneys. They were unlucky, as du Preez’s body rejected the new kidney five hours after the transplant, forcing the then 18 year old back to dialysis.

Fast forward to 2017 and Du Preez has just jetted off to Spain to represent South Africa in the World Transplant Games in Spain, thanks to his second and successful transplant, which he had three years ago at Groote Schuur Hospital.

The games, which are similar to Olympics or Paralympics, is an international sporting event for transplant athletes. The international sporting showcase demonstrates the physical success of transplant surgery and the ability of transplant recipients to lead healthy, normal lives. The event aims to significantly enhance the understanding and acceptance of organ donation. It will be a second time that Du Preez attends these games, which start tomorrow at the beautiful Mediterranean port city of Málaga Spain. The games end on Sunday, July 2.

He will be running 100m, 200m and 400m relays and will be playing javelin and a shot put after he broke national records and received gold medals in these categories during the national qualifying games last year.

Speaking from his home in Big Bay just before he left for Spain, Du Preez, who is turning 21 in August, says he is determined to use his second chance in life to "excel and win medals" at the games, where he will be carrying a South African flag.

“I’m going to these games to win. I want to showcase to the world what transplants are capable of doing. If it was not for the kidney transplant I wouldn’t be here today. God has given me a second chance in life and I want to use this opportunity productively and to inspire others who may be facing difficult situations in life,” he said.

Even though transplant patients are discouraged from getting involved in sporting activities in the first year of their transplant to allow their full recovery, Du Preez admits that he defied this rule and started training three months after the transplant. Five months after his transplant, he broke the SA 200m record in athletics when he finished his race in 26 seconds, two seconds faster than the 28 seconds.

“I got a gold medal for that run and another gold for for 100m and a shot put, but my times were not good enough to qualify me for the World Transplant Games in Argentina in 2015. But I was so determined to qualify that I started participating in other small competitions with able-bodied athletes, so that I could improve my times. Eventually, I got enough points to qualify me to participate,” he recalled.

A flu virus that he caught during his trip to Argentina meant that he couldn’t run in all the races there and he had to give up running in the finals after he collapsed on the track due to the infection.

But this time around, this first-year Management student at CPUT is not taking any chances and says he is going to Spain to win.

Du Preez, who admits that he was on the verge of "giving up on life" by the time he had his second transplant in 2014, says he now uses his life story to inspire others.

“When I had my second transplant, I was almost on my death bed. The doctors had already told my me and my family that I wouldn’t live long. They said that I wouldn’t live beyond 18 years. I had so many operations to create veins or fistulas (a connection made by surgeons to a vein that is used to remove and return blood during hemodialysis). I had 23 operations already and doctors said the vein in my neck, which they were using, was the last one and if that one ruptured, that would be the end of me. I had also made peace with predictions that I was to die,” he recalled.

Today, not only are doctors calling him a “miracle child”, but he has become a motivational speaker and gets invited to schools and churches to share his life story.

September said not only was her son an inspiration to his peers and including doctors, “but his life experience has also strengthened our faith as a family”.

“I remember how discouraged Martinique was when we received that call that he must come to the hospital for a transplant. He doubted it would be successful, but the second transplant really turned things around for him."