RALEIGH - A local pastor is pushing himself to the limit after receiving a heart transplant almost 12 years ago. Brian Barndt, returned to his life-long love of swimming and he's getting ready to compete in the 2017 World Transplant Games.
Another person's heart beats in Barndt's chest - it's what keeps him swimming - literally and metaphorically.
"It was either going to be a transplant surgery, or I wasn't going to live," Barndt said.
He's a pastor at the Grey Stone Church in Durham and aquatics were his life since childhood. He swam for UNC Wilmington, until he found himself treading water when his heart began to fail. He had cardiomyopathy - weakening the muscle.
"Most cardiomyopathies progressed to the point that, without a heart transplant within a short number of days or weeks, the other organs in the body would start shutting down, and the patient would die,"Chetan Patel, Barndt's doctor and medical director of heart transplant program at Duke University Hospital, said.
Brian received his transplant in 2005, and 6 weeks later he was back in the pool at practice - 10 months later, and he was competing in his first U.S. Transplant Games.
"Winning that event was a joy I can't replace, so to be a competitive athlete after 18 years was something that I never expected to get back," he said.
"For the first 10 years after my transplant, I would always say 'because I can, because I can,' and I felt like I had to do this because I've been given so much. For the second 10 years, my response is going to be 'because I must, just because I must'".
Now, he's swimming for the nearly 120,000 people who are awaiting for a transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing - competing for the U.S., to urge others to join the organ donor registry.
"Brian is an example of somebody who not only has taken his gift of a new heart to improve his own life, but also to send a message to others that this new life can actually lead to amazing things," Dr. Patel said.
The World Transplant games kick off June 25th in Spain, and Barndt hopes to bring home the gold.