“I feel so blessed:” Local man returns from World Transplant games-takes home silver and bronze

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HOLLAND, Mich. – Fred Nelis just brought home silver medals in the 50-meter backstroke, butterfly and freestyle, and a bronze in the 100-meter freestyle. And he looks forward to competing next summer in Salt Lake City and in 2019 in England.

What makes Fred special is that he's swimming with another person's heart.

Fred recently competed in the World Transplant games in Spain. Competitors have to have received a soft tissue transplant.

We first brought you his story March of 2015 and again in June of 2016  when he was training for the Transplant Games of America. Nelis gained national attention after he and a friend both received the gift of life from the same organ donor.

Swimming with someone else's heart gives Fred special motivation: "It keeps me sharp, keeps me motivated from a competitive stand point."

He started swimming in the 8th grade. But he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure at age 38. Despite the setback, Fred continued competing.

Then, roughly three years ago, he was back in the hands of doctors, getting his new heart at Spectrum Health.

Fred says the best part was meeting fellow transplants. "There were somewhere between 2,300 and 2,500 people from around the world that joined in the celebration of life," he said. "I don't want people to perceive us as porcelain dolls. I think we offer value in the fact we've overcome something."

Fred plans to head to North Castle, England, in 2019 for the World Transplant Games. Next summer he'll compete in the Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City.

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