Health Team

Heart transplants can't keep the Tin Men down

Posted November 11, 2010 10:43 a.m. EST
Updated November 11, 2010 6:28 p.m. EST

— They call themselves the Tin Men: three men from North Carolina, California and Canada who, this Saturday in Wilmington, will become the first team of heart transplant recipients to compete in a triathlon.

Brian Barndt, 42, says he was always an athlete and an avid swimmer until age 22, when he got a surprise diagnosis of congestive heart failure.

"I was still in college, and my world just literally turned upside down," Barndt said.

Life became an exercise in survival until 2005, when he received a donor's heart at Duke University Hospital.

Barndt remains on immuno-suppresant drugs and must always be on the look-out for complications, but he's proving that a new life is possible after a heart transplant.

A year after his transplant, he swam in the U.S. Transplant Games and won four gold medals. In 2009, he competed in the World Transplant Games.

"I swam for team USA, and I won three silvers and a bronze, which was more than I could have asked for as a transplant," he said.

Next, Barndt began looking for other heart transplant recipients to join him on a triathlon team. He found Kyle Garrett, of California, and Mark Black, of Canada, who has both a heart transplant and double lung transplant.

"Our logo is three hearts, two lungs, with one goal," Barndt said.

The three will meet face-to-face for the first time at the Beach to Battleship Triathlon in Wilmington.

Garrett will run the biking leg, Black is the distance runner, and Barndt will compete in his favorite element: the water.

"The water is a place that's a refuge for me. It's a place of life. It's a place that I can honor people who aren't privileged to be able to be where I'm at," he said. "It's the place where I've been able to have my identity restored and redeemed in a lot ways. You know, everything that I've been given is a gift."