Monday, August 11, 2008

The Testimony of Cliff Tam

Last week I was at Canadian Transplant Games. It was a time where I had the opportunity to connect with other transplant athletes. We shared stories, ask what type of medication each one takes, what transplant and when did it happened.

When I look back...I was 10 when I had my liver transplant. The first time my family went to see the doctor, he had us run a number of blood tests. My blood results were off and I was sent to Toronto's Hospital For Sick Children. After running a few tests, the doctor told me that I had a tumor in my liver.

When a report asked me if I was scared, I said no. I was too young at that point to conceive the fact that I would die. I knew cancer is a bad thing but I had not idea the gravity of the situation.

You see, I was very healthy then. I was your average 10 year old who played Nintendo and rode my bike (I love riding then..I love riding now..never changes).  I collected all types of insects. I kept caterpillars until they turned into butterflies. Grasshoppers. Crickets. Whatever I could get my hands on, I would put them in jars.

Sadly, I was not good at keeping them alive.

Dr. Superina was the doctor who looked after me in Hospital for Sick Children.  He put me on the waiting list for a liver transplant.  I went back to school as a normal child.

In April 1991, my mom got a phone call in the afternoon one day.  They told us that they found a suitable donor for me.  We quickly went to  the hospital and they ushered me to prep for surgery. I still remembered walking through the dark halls in the hospital.  Every department was closed and I was the only kid there.

Before they wheeled me into the operating theatre, they asked my dad to give me a kiss.  In Asian culture, we were not very affectionate. That was the first time my dad kissed me on my cheek.

They gave me sleeping gas and soon I was knocked out.

The next moment I woke up, I was very tired, weak and cold.  I could barely move and couldn't talk because there tubes in my mouth.

I was in the Intensive Care Unit. I vaguely remembered my experience there. My mom told me I was hooked up with many tubes and a whole sort of machines monitoring my stats.

I saw my parents coming in to visit me.

To pass the time, I used my imagination and pretended the door and the windows were tetris blocks and try to fit blocks into them.

A few days later, I was out of ICU and had my own room. It was at the end of the hall.  It took some time but I was slowly able to get out of the bed and walk. I remembered my family, relatives and friends coming to visit me.  I got a few video games and had a blast playing them. The noise from the video game annoyed a few kids (and their parents) down the hall though :).

One time my cousin visited me and we walked down the hall.   I had an IV drip on me and when I walked one step, I would push it forward. A slow tug and go and I will reach to the end of the hall and come back.

I celebrated my b-day (April 17) at the hospital. The nurses brought a cake and I was able to eat for the first time since the operation.

There was a game room and I would wait patiently to open so I can go in and play video games.

A few days later, I was move to another room. This is a bigger room with three other kids. One of the kids came from South America. He had a liver and three kidneys transplant (that's right..three!). His parents were with him and his skin was yellow. Sadly to say, he didn't made it. There was also asian baby who had a liver transplant. He didn't made it either.

My dad would visit me everyday. He brought me micro machines and car model.  I would play with them all day long. I got comic books (Archie) to pass the time. I still remember watching Night's Court before going to bed. Little did I know at that time my dad was laid off from work. He told me this last year (2007).

Them being good parents, kept that away from me. I never notice the difference.

I was sent home three weeks later. The doctor wanted to get me home in two. My parents were concerned that I would have complications so I stayed for another week.

Being a 11 year old without a care in the world...I did not mind staying in the hospital.  I didn't mind the hospital food. Meat, mash potatoes, ice cream and a milk. Sometimes there are a variety with green peas or carrots. I had lot of toys and watched tv all the time.

When I got home, my parent set up a game room for me. It had a little tv with Nintendo and I would sit there all day long.

Being home doesn't mean I am all better. There were so many pills to take. Tons. I had a little yellow tube sticking out of me to get rid of the bile. I had tons of staples to keep the scar in place. And for a while I had a needle stick on my hand for the IV drip.

I went to the hospital everyday to take special medication through the IV drip.   My dad got a job working at the evening shift. He would get me to the hospital in the morning and drop me off at a friend's house at noon and he would go to work. He would return home at around 11 pm or so.

After a while, I went back to school. I missed a few months of grade 5. I caught up fairly quickly. The teacher (Miss Carol) was very nice and I was integrated very well back to class. There was one friend I hang out back then, Bhavin.

....things slowly got back to normal. By normal I mean by 14-15, I would go with my dad to downtown to the hospital. After doing tests (ultrasound, cat-scan), my dad and I would see the doctor (Dr. Superina) and his coordinator (Lory).

At the clinic, they would call me the miracle child. I had no rejection problems. I came into the clinic and left without any issues. Then my dad would go to work and I would commute back to school.

I still had 2-3 drugs to take. I learned to pick them up and eat them at the right time. Some were nasty. There was one that's dissolved quickly in my mouth and extremely bitter.

I never really give much thought about my operation.

A year later (1992), my parents got me a new bike and signed me up for the transplant games. They know I love to ride my bike and got me to participate for cycling. We had to ride two laps. I remembered riding pretty fast that a lady beside me in frustration said..'I ain't gonna let a kid beat me' and she rode off.

When I was almost at the finish line, I slowed down. My dad cheered me to finish. Good thing. Another kid (with a transplant) was just behind me.

That's when I got my first medal. The Premier (Bob Rae) of Ontario put the gold around my neck.


and so life moves on. Today, I am 28 and had the transplant for 17 years. Some people when they have cancer, they say they had to fight it.

I did not. I was just a kid. The 11-year-old who doesn't give a thought about life and death.

That's when I started to see my life as a miracle. For I played no part in being alive today. God provided a liver and a clear path for me. While I was drunk and passed out, God continued to keep me healthy.

When I think about triathlon, marathon, Ironman and the grace that I was given to participate, I can help but to be grateful. I love going hard at these events because of what God has done in my life. It isn't about beating my competitors or getting the medal. If I can lay everything on the field and give that Glory to God...I won.

At the Canadian Transplant Games, I got 16 medals. 12 Gold, 2 Silver and 2 Bronze.

As impressive as they might sound, they are nothing compare to a 1,500 meter race where a 10 year old (Jacob) who had a heart transplant ran with us.

The race consisted of three laps and I was going strong from the beginning to the end. As we finished, Jacob had one more lap to go. He was tired (he rode 20 km a few days ago...tough kid!) and was walking. Instead of sitting around, we walked along the track with him. We cheered him on. Give him encouragement and tell him to make sure he run strong to the finish.

And he sure run strong. And with a smile :)...

Someone suggested that he would be like me...I disagree..he could be faster than me :)

If I could..I would give all my medals away to see more kids like Jacob finish strong (and with a smile).

When I saw Jacob, I can't help but to think about myself 17 years ago. Some family had the courage and the heart to take their love one off life support and donor the organs. They sacrifice someone they love so a kid like me can live. I can't help but to say thank you and be grateful for being alive. And I don't think I deserved the liver more than any other person out there. For there are dark times in my life where I wasted my life away. Totally unworthy for such a gift.

When I think about what God has done in my life, things that are not in my control, I can't help but to rejoice and praise His Name. In the calm and in the storm. For looking at my scar is a reminder that my Savior is mighty to save. He saved me physically and spiritually...

As I came back from the Canada Transplant Games, I see that my life is more than ordinary. For I have a testimony that needs to be shared and to be told. A testimony that can give hope and encouragement.

I want to say...cancer is beatable and organ donation does work. I am a living example.

Next year, there is an International Transplant Games in Australia. A number of transplant recipients have encouraged me to participate. The competition there will be fierce. Transplant athletes from 55 countries will be battling for medals.

If it is God's Will..I will be there..once again...putting everything on the road. And I will train hard. Focus. When I think about the kids that are fighting their lives in the transplant ward, I can't help but to stay strong so I can tell them to be strong. I will not be afraid for I know I already won by being alive and well.

For His Glory.


April 9, 2010 - Just a recap of the International Transplant Games. I did went to Australia in September last year and represented Canada. By God's Grace I got a gold for running 5 k and a silver for 5 km bike Time Trial. Even without the medals, I would still rejoice in His Name.

I am still riding my bike and running in the trails. Many of my moment with Him are spent in the woods and on the road. I still enjoy the solitude and being in His Presence.


VancouverIslandRunner said...

Cliff, Thank you for sharing your testimony. I know your story will make a difference in the lives of others. God is Great :)

The Young Family said...

Wonderful testimony. God does perform many miracles, and you are one of them!

Thank you for living your life "out loud and on the net" very inspiring!


Boris' Dad said...

cliff, your testimony made me cry (at work!) praise God***

Phil said...

Cliff, that was very nicely written. You are a wonderful messenger.

Wai Jia said...

Hi Cliff,

I stumbled upon this site when I googled Christian Triathletes. God has touched my life in a tremendous way as well. Thank you for sharing, i was once very ill before God blessed me with the joy of swimming, cycling and running. Just want to continually seek Him even as I enter into the sport.

Thank you for sharing yr story and journey. It is so encouraging to see you giving God glory and focusing on whats important. It is a great source of encouragement for me, even as I embark on this journey.

Wai Jia