A few months after his liver transplant, Nagendra Honavalli asked his surgeon for a special parking pass, so he wouldn’t have to walk too far from his car. Instead, he got a dose of tough love.
“Dr. Sibulesky told me I wasn’t a sick person anymore, I was a healthy person, and I needed to build stamina and be healthy,” says Honavalli.
This thought stayed with him. And that tough love continued as Honavalli recovered — from being afraid to walk on his own to cycling 205 miles in the STP (Seattle to Portland) — with the support of a group called Team Transplant.
The journey begins
In early 2015, Honavalli started feeling unwell and had trouble sleeping. When doctors diagnosed him with liver cirrhosis, he was shocked: He’d never smoked or had alcohol in his life. But as the months passed, his health steadily deteriorated. His doctors told him he urgently needed a liver transplant and transferred him to UW Medical Center (UWMC), where Lena Sibulesky, M.D., UW associate professor of surgery, performed the transplant on December 16.
Honavalli and his family made it through the transplantation process with the help and support of his colleagues. But by early January, after nearly two months in the hospital, he was ready to go home — and it was then, Honavalli says, that his transformation truly began.
He took Sibulesky’s advice to heart. After taking six months off from work to recover, Honavalli started slowly with walks around the neighborhood to gain confidence and build strength. Within months, he and his daughter Deepali, 8, completed a 5K walk together. When he shared the news with his UW Medicine care team, they connected him with Team Transplant, a UWMC-based group that promotes physical activity and organ donation awareness.
Working with Team Transplant
Team Transplant is a volunteer-run program, supported entirely by philanthropy, that holds two training seasons each year to prepare transplant recipients (and their families and friends) for half-marathons and fitness events. The program, led by Alysun Deckert, a registered dietitian at UWMC, provides snacks and water during practice, safety and emergency equipment, and race entry fees for patients who could not otherwise afford them. Honavalli appreciates the support Team Transplant members offer each other — and their focus on wellness and positivity.
“Nobody talks about their surgery, which is good, because you have to tell your mind and body that you’re healthy and positive,” he says. “Everybody just wants to have a good practice that day and do their best.”
With hard work and dedication, Honavalli has turned his life around. He’s lost about 100 pounds so far and feels much healthier. He completed several half-marathons in 2016 and 2017. Most recently, in July 2018, he and his daughter Bhavana, 13, did the STP in two days. (With encouragement from Arvind, his Team Transplant coach.) “Now, my goal is to do it in a day,” he says.
As an assistant vice president at a software company, Honavalli was overworked, frequently stressed and tired. Today, he practices work-life balance and meditates. And his relationships have improved, too. “I try to be good to others, be nice and stay positive,” he says. “When people meet me now, they say they’ve never seen this side of me!”
“Nagendra’s been a great addition to our team,” says Deckert. “Everyone has enjoyed watching his progress at our Saturday morning practices. His enthusiasm for healthy living is contagious!”
“The confidence I got from Team Transplant was very powerful,” Honavalli says. “There’s always somebody there to talk to and who will listen. I’ve learned a lot from them.”