Written By Trevor Umlah
Anyone who has undergone an organ transplant or is still on a waiting list knows what it’s like to anxiously await “the call”. For four years, I waited to hear the words, “Mr. Umlah, we have located a potential donor for you. Please make your way to Toronto General Hospital immediately.” On August 7, 2007, after 39 years of declining health due to Cystic Fibrosis, I received the gift of life — a new set of lungs. From that moment, I focused on my recovery and on making my second chance at life an extraordinary one.
I never dreamed that I would be able to play hockey again but, six months later, I decided to ask my transplant doctor if I could return to my position as goalie. To my surprise, he answered, “Absolutely, but wear a good chest protector.” Three days later and 17 seconds into my first game, I took a slap shot directly to my rebuilt sternum that felt harder and more direct than any I’ve faced in 200 games since. My chest protector and my titanium wires proved to be more than adequate. We lost that game 7-1, but I felt like I had won the Stanley Cup and an Olympic gold medal... I had cleared another major hurdle!
In May of this year, I received another “call”. This time it was from the Elmira Jackals of the East Coast Hockey League, long-time supporters of organ donation. “Trevor”, they said, “we would be more than happy to have you at the Pro Placement Camp in September.” Does this begin my road to professional hockey stardom? I will be 43 years old when I step on the ice at the hockey camp — the same age as Gordie Howe when he first retired from the NHL in 1971 after nearly 1700 regular season games. He made a successful comeback playing 7 more seasons before retiring at the age of 52.
Clearly, I AM NO GORDIE HOWE. And I do not intend to embarrass myself or the Elmira Jackals. My goal is not about making the team, but to demonstrate the quality of life that can be achieved after a transplant. If, because of my story, one person registers themselves as an organ/tissue donor; or one person with end-stage organ failure accepts a transplant; if someone with a loved one in the gravest of situations decides in favour of organ donation; or one kid with Cystic Fibrosis finds hope in my success, I will have accomplished my goal.
I am blogging about my progress over the summer leading up to the Jackals’ camp on September 2, 2011. Please check in every now and then to see how I am doing.