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Transplant recipient to receive Bounce Back Award


Derek Fitzgerald of Doylestown is among two people being honored with the Bounce Back Give Back Award, an annual award give by Astellas, in collabroation with the Chris Klug Foundation, that recognizes transplant recipients.

“The Bounce Back Give Back Award is about celebrating active and healthy lives post-transplant, as well as educating and encouraging all transplant recipients in their post-transplant journey,” said Lauren Pierce, executive director, Chris Klug Foundation. “For more than 20 years, Astellas has supported the transplant community through programs like the Bounce Back Give Back Award, and the Patient Ambassador Program — a program where the Chris Klug Foundation visits with patients and staff at transplant centers offering inspiration to those touched by transplantation.”

CKF received more than 45 nominations representing individuals from 11 states for this year’s award. A team of CKF reviewers selected the two award winners.

Fitzgerald will enjoy an all-expenses-paid trip to Aspen with one guest each for the award ceremony. Awards will be presented during CKF’s Summit for Life weekend, on Dec. 6 and 7, at the conclusion of the foundation’s annual nighttime race up Aspen Mountain. The 2.5-mile uphill race traditionally draws over 500 participants with proceeds from the event benefiting CKF.

Fitzgerald was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that primarily affects the immune system, in 2003. At that time, he had to go through intensive chemotherapy after doctors removed a grapefruit-sized tumor from his intestines.

Although he eventually went into complete remission, the chemo had done significant damage to his heart and he spent the next seven years in heart failure. At 37 years old, he went into severe end-stage heart failure with his heart functioning at 5 percent. His health continued to decline after he lost 128 pounds and the ability to breathe on his own. Three days into 2011, he received a heart transplant that saved his life.

Although he wasn’t an athlete prior to his transplant, Fitzgerald finished his first 5K race just eight months after receiving his new heart. In 2013, he became the world’s first (and only) cancer survivor and heart transplant recipient to complete a full IRONMAN triathlon. Since his transplant, Derek has completed over 100 endurance races, including six IRONMAN triathlons, a 2.4-mile swim, and a 112-mile bike ride followed by a 26.2-mile run.

He started his own nonprofit organization the Recycledman Foundation, to improve quality of life for those affected by significant health challenges by helping them become more active. He also has a video series, called “Limitless: Inspiring Stories from the Edge,” that highlights inspirational people who have pushed past their own challenges and are now living their best lives.

In addition to managing his own foundation, Fitzgerald is an active volunteer at the Gift of Life Donor Program, and volunteers for Donate Life America as well. As a volunteer, he shares his transplant story at donor family events, health fairs and hospital staffing functions. He also volunteers with the IRONMAN Foundation and participates in many of the organization’s events and fundraising efforts.

He regularly visits transplant patients in hospitals around the country and shares his story with them, answers their questions, and provides support. Fitzgerald is also active in online support groups for heart transplant recipients and patients who are on the transplant waitlist.

He uses social media as a platform to advocate for organ donation and spread messages of hope to those in need.