Meet Varun Anand, a remarkable 12-year-old from Bengaluru who says he has eliminated the phrase “I can’t” from his vocabulary.
A kidney transplant recipient, he won three gold medals for India at the 2023 World Transplant Games Federation, recently held in Perth in Australia.
Speaking to South First, an overjoyed Varun, who won India golds in badminton, table tennis and tennis, said he was elated and inspired to meet other participants — either transplant recipients or organ donors — from almost 60 countries who participated in the games to celebrate successful transplantation and the gift of life.
Diagnosed with CKD at age 9
Varun was only nine years old when he was diagnosed with end-stage Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).
“We were shocked when the doctor told us that his kidneys had reached an irreparable state and transplant was the only option,” Varun’s father Anand Anantharaman told South First from Australia.
As Anand is a diabetic, the option of him donating a kidney was ruled out.
Fortunately, Varun’s mother Deepa’s samples were a match and a live donor transplant was done in 2019 on the then-nine-year-old.
He was able to recover quickly enough, though there were some complications in the early days, and he had to spend most of his time resting.
The family is extremely thankful to Dr Saumil Gaur of Rainbow Children’s Hospital in Marathahalli in Bengaluru. They call him a “saviour”.
The family basically consists of sports lovers. Anand, a senior director at Razorpay, never wanted his son to go into a cocoon after the transplant.
The doctor had given the family enough confidence that Varun too could lead a normal life after the transplant.
Motivated, Anand continued to train him in some of Varun’s favourite sports — badminton, table tennis, and tennis.
“There were a few games like cricket and football that were restricted for Varun, but he had no restrictions to play badminton, table tennis, and tennis. I took this as an opportunity and began to train him myself in these sports, along with professional trainers,” said Anand.
Varun was also motivated by his mother, who would always tell him to delete the word “I can’t” from his life, and refused to let his condition define him.
He actively trained in sports and enrolled through Organ India to participate in the World Transplant Games.
Deepa said: “I am proud of my son today. I have never let him say ‘I can’t’. We will continue to motivate him to win many such medals in his life. He is an amazing sport and has so much positivity that it is inspiring for not just our family but several others.”
Varun said his win was dedicated to his doctor, who he said had been a “big pillar of support and guidance”.
He also dedicated it to the teachers, management, and friends at BVM Global School. who he said had “always been understanding, encouraging and very accommodative” of his training sessions.
In awe of participants
Varun said his only goal was to participate in the games and not really bother about winning or losing.
He said from Australia, “I am inspired by such wonderful people here. I am so proud that there were 31 participants from India. Every single person has been inspiring.”
He added, “I can’t believe each has a story about their transplant. While one has a liver, someone has a heart transplant, someone has a kidney, or they are donors. Each story, each person is inspiring. I was in awe of every single person, from young to old, I met here.”
Varun’s favourite and most inspiring personalities at the WTG have been the Indian team captain and heart recipient Karhun Nanda, and UK-based liver recipient Kristof Polgar.
“I have made many good friends here. I intend to keep in touch with them and hear about their motivating stories of everyday life even after I get back to Bengaluru,” said Varun.
India won 35 medals
With a contingent of 31 contestants, the team from India won a total of 35 medals in various categories.
It won nine gold medals — three of them from Varun — in the 12-14 years category.
Souvik Sarkar won two gold medals, in darts and tenpin bowling in the 30-39 year category. Heera Singh Daspa won gold in the javelin throw in the same age category.
Dharmendra Kumar Soti won gold in badminton in the 50-59 years category.
The team also won five silver and eight bronze medals.
The Indian contingent also won a total of 15 gold, five silver, and two bronze medals in the donor categories.
Team India at the Parade of Nations and Opening ceremony of World Transplant Games 2023 at Perth, Australia. INDIAAAA!!! JAI HIND! @PMOIndia @manav_rachna @NottoIndia @ArvinderSoin @meghnaghaipuri @karhunnanda @AnikaParashar @MoHFW_INDIA @neerubhatia3 @TeamIndiaWTG pic.twitter.com/QtItvZ4New
— ORGAN INDIA (@ORGANINDIA1) April 16, 2023
Inspiration from all quarters
Interestingly, Varun’s family also won two medals. While Deepa won a bronze in the donor women’s category, his dad won silver in the 5 km race walk in the men’s donor family category.
Varun thanked his mom Deepa for everything she had been doing for him.
Deepa said, “He always says, you have given life to me twice amma!”
While Deepa was his “donor angel”, all the family members who participated in the event and those who couldn’t for various reasons remembered their own donor angels and thanked them.
Speaking on behalf of all of them, Karnataka’s State Organ and Tissue Transplantation Organisation (SOTTO) Chief Transplant Coordinator Lijamol Joseph, who has been working tirelessly — from finding sponsors for these participants to organising everything else — said cadaver organ donation had provided a second chance at life to many patients who were suffering from end-stage organ failure and had no family members available to donate.
“Today, these same organ recipients have brought glory to our nation by winning medals in various events,” said Joseph
She said the legacy of these donor angels lived on through the recipients, who are now giving hope to countless patients waiting for an organ transplant.
“These inspiring stories motivate us to promote awareness about organ donation and work towards saving more lives,” she added.
“We have decided as family to encourage organ donation. We will be doing more programs to create awareness on this issue,” explained Varun’s father Anand.
Nephrologists express joy
Several nephrologists and Organ India took to Twitter to congratulate every single participant who went to WTG.
A phenomenal win for India at World Transplant Games 2023.
Manav Rachna and Dr O P Bhalla Foundation along with @ORGANINDIA1 hosted 19 athletes for holistic training.
Congratulations to the team for their unwavering commitment and dedication. pic.twitter.com/ROEq8FJeDY
— Manav Rachna (@manav_rachna) April 16, 2023
Meanwhile Dr Sundar Sankaran, from Karnataka’s Aster Healthcare Hospital, tweeted about Varun winning gold, and the post went viral, with even cine actor R Madhavan congratulating the boy.
Varun young transplant recipient from India wins Gold in
World Transplant Games Australia
@wtg2015Arg @WTGF_Games @DrDeepakKrishn1@ASTERHealthcare @sonalasthana… pic.twitter.com/FRVRIWhimV
— Sundar Sankaran (@sundar_s1955) April 18, 2023
Myths about sports after a transplant
Doctors told South First there are many myths surrounding sports and organ transplantation.
Some of the most common myths are:
- Transplant recipients cannot participate in sports. This is simply not true. In fact, many transplant recipients lead active and healthy lifestyles, participating in a variety of sports and physical activities.
- Transplant recipients must avoid contact sports. While it is true that some contact sports can pose a risk of injury to transplant recipients, this does not mean that they must avoid all contact sports. With proper precautions and medical guidance, many transplant recipients are able to safely participate in contact sports.
- Transplant recipients cannot compete at a high level. This is also untrue. There are many examples of transplant recipients who have gone on to compete at a high level in sports, including professional athletes.
- Transplant recipients must take it easy: While it is important for transplant recipients to take care of their health and listen to their bodies, this does not mean they cannot participate in any sport.