This summer, Sunderland is set to host swimming, road cycling and ten-pin bowling events as part of the World Transplant Games.

Presenting medals at some of these events will be Karen Robson, from Farringdon, who lost her husband Leslie just before Christmas 13 years ago.

As both Karen and Leslie strongly believed in organ donation, Karen immediately agreed that Leslie’s kidneys could be used to save someone else’s life.

Karen will be presenting medals at the swimming events at Sunderland Aquatic Centre and at the ten-pin bowling events at the AMF Bowl Washington during the World Transplant Games, which run from 17th to 24th August.

Along with other donor families and the athletes, Karen will also be participating in the World Transplant Games opening ceremony in Newcastle on Saturday August 17th.

The World Transplant Games – which are held once a year – aim to raise awareness of organ donation and to encourage people to sign up as organ donors and to talk to their families about their wishes.

The games also celebrate the lives that have been saved thanks to organ donation and honour those families that have allowed their loved ones’ organs to be donated.

This year, the games are being hosted by Newcastle and Gateshead, with some events taking place in Sunderland.

Karen said, “Leslie was a lovely man; he would have done anything for anyone. He was only 64 when he died.”

“He had a heart attack at the wheel of his car while he was driving just a few weeks before Christmas. We were on our way to the doctors, but he never made it.”

“One minute I was getting ready for Christmas – Leslie had got the Christmas tree down from the loft just a few hours before – the next minute someone was asking me if I’d like to donate my husband’s organs.”

“My husband was always very fit. He never had anything wrong with him so it was the biggest shock of my life, but I’ve never regretted donating his organs because there’s no point in taking them with you.”

“His kidneys went to a man living in the north east who sent me a lovely letter afterwards.”

Karen says that she would urge anyone facing a similar decision to make the same choice as her.

She said, “I would just say, ‘Think how you would feel if it was you or someone you love waiting for an organ.’ I always say it’s not for everyone, but it is one of the best things I ever did.”

Sunderland City Council’s cabinet member for communities and culture, Cllr John Kelly, said, “We know that at any one time there are around 5,900 people on the transplant waiting list and on average three people die every day who could have benefited from organ donation.”

“The games are all about raising public awareness of organ donation and encouraging people to sign up as organ donors as well as discussing their wishes with their loved ones.”

“So it’s really inspiring to hear about people like Karen who have taken the difficult decision to help someone else live by donating their loved ones’ organs.”

“We’re delighted to be supporting the games by hosting three of the sporting events in Sunderland.”

“This builds on the success of events like the National Cyclocross at Hetton Lyons Country Park in 2018 and the award-winning Tall Ships Races, which brought in the region of 1.2 million visitors to the city last summer, the Airshow, the Illuminations and Festival of Light, and more recently the Leonardo exhibition, which all contribute to Sunderland’s growing reputation as an events city.”

“We hope lots of people will come along to watch the swimming, cycling and ten-pin bowling events in Sunderland and be inspired by the athletes taking part and by brave people like Karen to sign up to be organ donors.”

For information on how to sign up as an NHS organ donor, please visit

(Featured image courtesy of musume miyuki from Flickr Creative Commons)

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