London, Ont., transplant recipient trains to swim across Lake Ontario to fundraise, raise awareness

Londoner Jillian Best is determined to swim 52 km across Lake Ontario this summer.

Her love for swimming is part of the reason, but the local transplant recipient says her main goal is to raise awareness and promote healthy living after transplant.

“I had a lifesaving liver transplant just over five years ago, and (it) has definitely given me a different purpose in life,” Best told 980 CFPL’s Mike Stubbs on London Live.

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Best is the founder of the Move for Life Foundation, which is dedicated to reducing the waitlist for organ transplants.

Each year, one or a group of transplant recipients and living donors will participate in a sporting challenge to demonstrate organ transplantation is life-changing.

This year, the foundation is raising funds to purchase new equipment that supports organ transplants for the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).

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Best was 15-years-old when her mother had a liver transplant in 2004. Best was soon diagnosed with hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, or HHT.

“It’s a blood vessel malformation, and it caused my mother’s liver and my liver to fail eventually, (which) required a liver transplant to survive,” she explained.

Her symptoms began to develop in her early 20s, which led Best to take medications to delay the need for a transplant.

The medications worked for a few years but she became sick again. She was then put on a transplant waiting list in May 2015.

“There were quite a few years there where I was battling illness… A lot of ups and downs before I had my transplant in 2016,” Best said.

“To experience pain day in and day out was a real challenge (both) physically and mentally.”

It wasn’t until a year-and-a-half after Best’s transplant that she began to feel like herself again.

Now, the transplant recipient is training for her fundraiser swim this August to raise awareness and funds to support other recipients as well as donors.

“My training has been lots of distance, lots of stroke correction and just putting a lot of time in the water,” she said.

Best can be found training in a backyard pool with a bungee cord to swim with resistance, “but I’ve also been swimming in the lake.”

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“It’s been a cold spring for me, I’ve spent a lot of time shivering, but it’s really great training because there are parts of Lake Ontario that can dip down to 10 degrees. I need to prepare my body for that. I need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

The proposed date for Best’s Lake Ontario fundraiser swim is the night of August 3 going into August 4, but it may change depending on the weather and COVID-19 restrictions.

A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to support Best’s mission and purchasing new equipment for LHSC.

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