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Heart of competition: Local heart transplant recipient to participate in Transplant Games

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 6, 2014 at 10:25 PM

It was 11 years ago last month that Johnson City resident Jeff Clements received his life-saving heart transplant.

This week the 33-year-old mechanical engineer at Eastman Chemical Co. and his wife, Jennifer, will celebrate those 11 years and the legacy of his heart donor by joining transplant recipients from all over the country in Houston for the 2014 Transplant Games of America.

“I definitely think of it as a celebration,” he said. “It’s a celebration of everyone who is there and everyone of those who donated (their organs) in very difficult circumstances.”

“It is a legacy of the donor that gave me my new life and I’m going to live my life as full as I can to honor that donor and their family.”

A one-time swimmer, Clements will be competing in the games’ 50-yard freestyle and backstroke events, something he has not done in many years.

“I was a swimmer long ago. I’ve gotten back into it in the last couple of months getting ready for these games and I’m really enjoying it.

“I’m going for the competition but also to have fun. I’m looking forward to talking to other people who have had transplants and hearing their stories.”

Sharing his own story, Clements said he was in his last year of college when a virus attacked his heart.

“It came completely out of the blue,” he said. “At first I thought it was the flu and within a week I was in ICU fighting for my life.”

His diagnosis was viral cardiomyopathy, and his doctors described it as a random thing.

“What happened is my heart enlarged and couldn’t pump as much and deprived my body of blood. Within two weeks, I was in kidney, liver and heart failure.”

Numerous procedures and two heart pumps later, he was strong enough to go on the transplant waiting list. Seven and one-half months later, he received the lifesaving donation. Within days of the transplant, he said he felt 10 times better than he had in many months and retuned to school the following fall.

Since moving to Tennessee, Clements has joined the regional Donate Life organization in encouraging everyone to be a donor.

“We try and make people understand the importance of signing up. You can make that donation and save the lives of up to eight people,” he said.

Joy McCray, public relations coordinator for Donate Life Tennessee-Virginia, joined Clements in encouraging others to make the life-saving decision to donate.

“We always encourage people to be organ donors, check that box on the back of their (driver’s) license or visit donatelifetn.org to learn more about how to be a donor,” she said.

One of nine transplant recipients from Tennessee who will be competing in this year’s games, Clements was honored to sign the Transplant Games of America flag as it traveled through the state last week.

“That flag is huge and has traveled all over the country and had people sign it all over the county. It’s great to be one of the many,” he said.

On Friday, the flag will be raised over Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium for the games’ opening ceremonies and remain aloft through their conclusion.

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