French Polynesian Francis Gazeau is one of those people who elicits respect due to his courage and actions. To say that his entire life has always been extraordinary would not be entirely true; but he can certainly be praised for the noble example he has set since his heart transplant ten years ago. Today, this seventy-year-old accomplishes amazing feats to spread awareness about organ donation. His next challenge: one year alone on Clipperton Island.
On April 21, 2004, Francis Gazeau received a heart transplant. After years on a waiting list for a heart, this was a rebirth and a chance at a second life for this senior citizen. Gazeau honors the amazing gift he received in the most beautiful way. He became the ambassador for organ donation in French Polynesia through engaging in extraordinary challenges to spread awareness about this generous lifesaving act. For the fifth anniversary of his transplant, and in the spirit of a modern day Robinson Crusoe, Francis Gazeau left to live on a motu off Tahanea atoll in the Tuamotus. This was an international first made possible through the assurance of his doctors, the support of sponsors, and his unswerving faith in life.
Then he crossed the Tuamotu Archipelago in his outrigger fishing canoe, Takoa, that he transformed into a skiff with a rudder, a mast, a sail, a second outrigger and trampoline nets. This odyssey in a sailing canoe was an opportunity to promote the Tuamotus and highlight French Polynesia while spreading his message. Each of his epic adventures calls for a documentary, for Francis Gazeau’s determination, confidence, and courage are intriguing and captivating. Already, his exploits would be deemed out of the ordinary for someone in excellent physical condition, never mind someone who underwent a heart transplant.
In order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his life in symbiosis with a new heart, this man will again push the limits of the mind and medicine. Gazeau will exile himself for an entire year on Clipperton Island, the most isolated French atoll in the world. Located in the Northern Pacific about 1,300 km (808 mi) to the west of Mexico, it is about 5,600 km (3,480 mi) from Tahiti. No one has tread ground on Clipperton Island for that long and to be there alone is a first in the world.
Clipperton Island: a crazy challenge for Gazeau
This island has always fascinated Gazeau. Today, this island is dying and he hopes to breathe new life into it through broadcasting live lessons to French Polynesian children about its ecosystem. How timely that his dream will coincide with the tenth anniversary of his transplant! Clipperton Island is 4 km long (2.5 mi) and 3km wide (1.5 mi) with an area of 4.6 sq mi. The French discovered the atoll in 1711. It became the site of scientific expeditions, but they had nothing in common with Gazeau’s plan. To get to Clipperton, Gazeau will embark on a French Navy ship in January or February, 2015.
Before arranging this, he had to convince the French government to bestow him with the status of volunteer representative of France, which assures him an extraction back home in case of any problems. Thereafter, the organization of his stay remains the same as it was on the deserted Tahanea atoll. After six months, a team of scientists will come and make sure Gazeau is in good physical health. Although he will be less cut off from the world than he was on Tahanea, thanks to the long distance environmental conferences he will be conducting, Gazeau will nonetheless not be there without risk.
However, Clipperton is not a very welcoming island. There are frequent storms and the fish abandoned the lagoon. With its semi-tropical climate, this island gets about 10-15 violent storms per year. Storms and rain are to be expected. This is a first for Gazeau, who was relatively protected during his retreat to the Tuamotus. Further, in order to get ready for his expedition, this adventurer is collecting advice and information while preparing mentally. He needs to bring in all the food he needs to survive since he cannot rely on the scarce marine resources. At least Clipperton atoll has a small coconut grove. Besides this local food supply, Gazeau will bring miki miki (a shrub common along the Tuamotuan coastline that is very resistant to salinity) and fruit trees. He will plant more coconut trees. He wants to give this dying islet new life through becoming Clipperton’s master gardener for a year.
After much thought about what would be the most efficient means of transport to sail Clipperton’s large lagoon, Gazeau traded in his traditional outrigger pirogue, or va’a , for a hobie cat (a small catamaran). He will build two shelters. The first will be in the coconut grove, and the other on the island’s highest point, a volcanic rock 29 meters high (95 ft) that emerges from the lagoon on the southeast side of the atoll. From there, Gazeau will have a survival and surveillance post. Before spending a year alone, this seventy-year-old adventurer will have company for the 15 days he will spend on the ship with the French Navy; which is the length of time it will take to get to Clipperton. They will stay on the island for four days to help get Gazeau situated and to assure he has everything he needs. Then…the adventure will truly begin!
Kidney transplants are the new French Polynesian challenge.
Organ donations impact us all, for all of us may someday either need a transplant or become a donor. It is therefore critical to discuss the issue with loved ones and to let them know our take on the matter. Since 2013 in French Polynesia, kidney transplants take place, although donations are rare. This is not only due to a lack of knowledge about the issue, but also tenacious religious beliefs. This is why Francis Gazeau spreads a positive message about organ donations in French Polynesia through connecting with the people and taking on exceptional challenges. What motivates him is to honor his donor and the 35-year-old heart that beats in his chest. Each day is a joy as long as he follows certain rules: to respect his medical treatment, to respect his transplant through healthy living, and to respect the opinions of others as far as organ donation.
Gazeau’s exploits turned into documentaries
His first solitary adventure on Tahanea atoll was retraced and immortalized with the film, Les as de cœur (Champions of the Heart). The second aventure, which involved crossing the Tuamotu Archipelago in a sailing pirogue, received a lot more coverage because Gazeau was followed by teams from the magazine Thalassa (a well-known journal dedicated to the ocean
and broadcast over a popular French public television channel), Bleu Lagon productions (a video production company) and Grand Angle (a French video/documentary production company). La pirogue du cœur (Pirogue of the heart) was broadcast throughout France and French Polynesia. Each challenge releases a film over Gazeau’s exploits, which allows for even more exchanges and connections.
A book over Tahanea
Always hoping to spread awareness about organ donation to large audiences, Francis Gazeau will release a book over his 2009 adventure on Tahanea atoll. The manuscript, written by Gilles Anziluti and published in France with a preface by Professor Christian Cabrol, a renowned French cardiologist, is almost finished. Part of the proceeds from the book will benefit Dr. Cabrol’s charities.