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As a transplant recipient and now a surgeon, Dr. Silke Niederhaus has a unique perspective on this year’s U.S. Transplant Games

Last month enthusiastic organ donors, recipients and supporters converged on Madison for the National Kidney Foundation’s U.S. Transplant Games. The biennial event provided a unique opportunity for many transplant recipients to reunite with the medical teams that cared for them. At the University of Wisconsin one surgeon knows what it’s like to have one foot in each camp, doctor and recipient.

Dr. Silke Niederhaus is in her first year of transplant surgery fellowship at the University of Wisconsin Division of Transplantation. At eight years old, Dr. Niederhaus was diagnosed with kidney disease and received a kidney transplant three years later. It was during the years of treatment before her operation and after multiple bouts of organ rejection following the transplant, that she cultivated her desire to become a surgeon.

Dr. Niederhaus began her transplant surgery fellowship in July after completing general surgery residency training at the University of Wisconsin Department of Surgery. Her hectic, and often unpredictable, OR schedule allowed her a 48-hour window to compete in this year’s Transplant Games.

“I was only off Friday night through Sunday night. I would have preferred to do the track or tennis events over the swimming, which shows my good judgment given I was such a slow swimmer,” she says with a laugh referring to her 500-meter swim time in the virtual triathlon.

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Dr. Silke Niederhaus, a transplant surgery fellow, and her husband John Niederhaus show off their style during the ballroom dancing competition. The couple danced their way to a gold medal in the Latin division. (See below for additional photos of Transplant Games 2010.)

For her third Transplant Games (she participated in 2004 and 2006), she also participated in the team 5K run, the 20K cycling event and ballroom dancing, an activity she and her husband John have taken up in their free time. Dancing was a new discipline for Silke but the training fit nicely into the couple’s weekly ballroom dancing lessons, a far cry from the operating room and scrubs.

“After we married, we decided to learn new dances for future weddings so we could improve. Our dance studio asked us to participate in the Transplant Games even though we never intended to dance competitively.”

They ignited the dance floor and took home the gold medal in the Latin division.

The Transplant Games have created a unique fraternity for Dr. Niederhaus and her fellow recipients. Now, as a surgeon, she’s able to reflect on the success of athletes and admire the strides they’ve made since their transplants.

“The people I know at the Games, I’ve known as my friends and not as patients so it’s a great joy to see them again and to see people doing so well.”

Dr. Niederhaus says the joyful overtones of the Games are a welcome change from the context of how she sees patients on a daily basis. “It’s just not what we see much of as part of the inpatient life.”

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Heart transplant recipient Jack Eigel met his donor’s mother, Janet Ramsey, for the first time. Janet had the opportunity to listen to her son’s heart beat inside Jack’s chest. Jack participated in the 1500 meter swim event.

Members of the Cardiothoracic transplant team, including Dr. Nilto De Oliveira (far left), Director of Lung and Heart/Lung Transplant and Dr. James Maloney (second from left) take part in the patient reception.

Transplant surgeons Dr. Hans Sollinger and Dr. Anthony D’Alessandro joined Donate Life America team members during the U.S. Transplant Games opening ceremonies.

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Dr. Silke Niederhaus and her husband John Niederhaus both
won medals in the 5K run/walk event.





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