The Chris Klug Foundation (CKF) recently announced the two winners of our annual Bounce Back Give Back Awards this year. The award recognizes two organ transplant recipients who exhibit an outstanding quality of life post-transplant, whether it is through career accomplishments, participation in sports or hobbies, or simply leading fulfilling lives with their family and loved ones.
One of our Bounce Back Give Back Award winners this year is Joelle Atkinson, who was diagnosed with infantile polycystic kidney disease at birth. At just 10 months old, Joelle had both kidneys removed and was put on-at-home dialysis. Her father donated one of his kidneys to her as a living donor eight months later.
Growing up, Joelle competed in dance competitions and led an active lifestyle, despite being unable to play contact sports. When she was eight years old, Joelle contracted pneumonia and the medication she had to take ended up damaging her liver and her kidneys so severely that she required transplants for both. While she was on the transplant waitlist for a new kidney/liver, Joelle competed in swimming, track and bowling at the U.S. Transplant Games, an Olympics-style event for individuals who are waiting for or have gone through lifesaving transplant surgeries. After nine long months, Joelle received a new kidney and new liver from a deceased donor.
Since her kidney/liver transplant, Joelle has competed in almost every year of the U.S. Transplant Games as well as two years at the World Transplant Games, an international version of the U.S. Games. She won both Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year in swimming at the 2016 U.S. Games and she continues to lead an active lifestyle by regularly running 5Ks and 10Ks as well as completing five half-marathons. She also taught dance in college.
In addition to her athletic pursuits, Joelle interned for the Gift of Life Donor Program, the largest organ procurement organization in the country, while she was in college. She is also the team captain for the organization’s annual Donor Dash. Joelle now has a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy and currently works with elementary and high school-age children with autism and other developmental disorders as an occupational therapist for a school district in southern New Jersey. She also works part-time in marketing for her family’s business. In addition, Joelle volunteers at Camp Chihope with pediatric transplant recipients through the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, where she used to be a counselor.
Joelle was recently married last year to her husband, Adam. She also wrote for Philadelphia Magazine’s health and wellness blog about what social distancing means as a kidney/liver recipient during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as how she stays healthy through fitness and a balanced diet.
Both Bounce Back Give Back Award winners are committed to serving as Ambassadors for organ, eye and tissue donation through CKF’s Patient Ambassador Program. CKF Ambassadors visit with patients awaiting transplant, transplant recipients and their families in hospitals and transplant centers to provide encouragement in recovery and inspire recipients to make the most out of their second chance at life.