Transplant Patient Teaches Tai Chi Classes to Fellow Transplant Patients in Memphis

By Richard Link

In January 2000, after my second kidney transplant, I was 50 pounds overweight, out of shape, and had very little energy.  I needed a plan to get back in shape. That is when I had the crazy idea to join my son in taking classes in Taekwondo. I wrote about the experience of my training and receiving my 1st Degree Black Belt in Transplant Chronicles, spring 2005,titled Kicking for Life.  I am still training in Taekwondo and have achieved 2nd Degree Black Belt status along the way. Although I do not recommend a hard style martial program like Taekwondo for pre or post-transplant patients, I do believe that it is essential to have a good exercise program to help combat stress and to regain strength and stamina after surgery.

I started training in the slow and gentle form of Tai Chi in 2009 and quickly realized it was the perfect exercise for pre and post-transplant patients. It’s slow. It’s an internal martial art that works on stretching, breathing, balance, stress, depression and all those challenges so many people experience. It’s both physical and mental, and it’s a nice, gentle way for transplant patients to regain their strength and recover.

I have been very blessed to have good health with few medical challenges. I believe that I received the best care that anyone could possibly have from the medical staff at both the University of Tennessee and Methodist Health Care.  I have wanted to find a way to give back, but did not know exactly how. I had the idea of teaching Tai Chi to others facing the challenges of transplant. I am now certified by Dr. Paul Lam’s Tai Chi for Health Community to teach Tai Chi for Beginners, Tai Chi for Arthritis, and Tai Chi for Diabetes classes.
I contacted Sarah Owens, a transplant social worker at Methodist University Hospital, about my idea to teach pre/post-transplant patients at a location close to the hospital. Ms. Owens was extremely helpful in getting the program off the ground. Sarah talked to the hospital’s transplant staff about the class, and was instrumental in finding a location and in promoting the program.

The classes are offered free to all local pre/post-transplant patients and their spouses or immediate care givers. We have a small core of regular students and meet twice a week. While post-transplant patients work on regaining their strength and stamina, pre/transplant patients come to build themselves up for the difficult journey that lies ahead.

Bill P. began attending the classes prior to his liver transplant in December. “Tai Chi really increased my strength.  I was up and walking with a walker and little assistance two days after surgery, and I was still in the ICU.”

Anyone regardless of age, gender, or physical condition can participate because the classes can be enjoyed either sitting or standing.

My little dream is that certified instructors and transplant hospitals around the country will see the benefit and start a Tai Chi for Transplant Program in their area. I am more than willing to share my experience to help others get started.

Note: The Tai Chi classes are conducted by volunteer Richard Link and are not in any way associated with either the Methodist University Hospital or Staff.