Transplant Games

10/10/2010 1:42:54 PM

The NFK Gala was held last night, October 9, 2010. Karl and I attended the annual Gala, for the Indiana Kidney Foundation. We went as representatives of Team Indiana.  I walked into the Egyptian Room of the Murat  Theatre in Downtown Indianapolis and the first thing that caught  my eye was the picture of me swimming at the transplant games on the large screen in the front of the room The event started with a silent auction and pictures from the transplant games were shown throughout. Of course with Karl having volunteered to be the team photographer, I happened to be in many of them!

The Transplant Games are held every two years, and recipients, their families, live donors and donor families, as well as transplant professionals all join together for a celebration of life.  The intensity of the shared experience brings emotions to the surface, emotions which bring back memories of difficult times, of pain, hardship and suffering, memories of the difficulties of recovery and the incredible joy of the success of transplantation.

The opening ceremonies set the scene for the games. The family and friends are seated in the hall, as the Teams line up and then walk in one by one, in a pageant style announcement, each state is announced and they walk in one by one, carrying the flag and the team banner. It is impossible to describe the feeling of walking in with the team, cheering, and being struck by the enormity of the event. Each team is shepherded to their assigned place and we await the arrival of the live donors. There is not a dry eye in the house as the announcer shows pictures of parents giving organs to their infant children, and sibling to sibling, and even total strangers. The emotion comes to a head when the donor families walk in. There is not a person in that hall who does not recognize that the hundreds of recipients in attendance would not be alive and there today if it were not for the courageous decision made by those families to donate the organs of their children and siblings, most of whom died tragically at too young an age.

There are people of all ages, all walks of life and she share the bond of organ donation and transplantation. Larry Hagman discusses this bond, as he did every year until his death in XXXXXX. Prior to that, it is my understanding he had not missed a year since his liver transplant in 1996. Larry is a hero at the games, his yearly challenge to all recipients to ‘stand and show us your scars”. We all stand and follow his lead lifting our shirts to show each other our scars.

In the spirit of Olympic style games the cauldron is lit, this year by Olympic snowboarder and liver recipient Chris Klug.  There are inspirational speeches and we are urged to go forward and enjoy the spirit of the bond we share and show our best in the games.

These games, unlike competitive sports do not have qualifying trials. The only criteria for competition are to be 9 months post-transplant; liver, kidney, lung, heart, pancreas, multivisceral, or bone marrow. We compete because we can. We participate because of the shared bond that brings us all there together.

Team Indiana is a small team with only 22 athletes. I find it unbelievable that I was the only liver recipient despite Indiana University having one of the largest transplant centers in the US. I am in good company however Jeanne Pittman, a liver transplant recipient, medalist and Team member, received a second transplant a few months before the games, and she was there, unable to compete, but fully a member of the team. Jeanne and I will have to do something about recruiting more liver recipients in the future. In the picture Jeanne is on the left and my fellow swimmer, Katie, an 18 year old heart recipient from Columbus on the right.

I competed in the 500 yard freestyle, 200 yard freestyle, and the 100 yard breaststroke. I won silver in the 500, and almost medaled in the 200 however I forgot how to count.  I had been training in a 50 meter pool, so 200 yards was short of 4 laps. I was swimming well and apparently lost count as I stopped after 6 laps. I was looking up at the scoreboard, to see my time, which had not stopped, so I asked the timer what the problem was and he told me I still had two laps. Incredible! of course I did the two laps right away but by that time my medal chances were long gone. I asked him afterwards why he didn’t tell me, his response is still unbelievable to me; “I thought you were resting”…  Oh well, as an insightful competitor told me- you have your medal, just focus on how happy someone else is that they too have a medal. What great insight. Pay it forward. I was still annoyed with myself.

10/10/2010 2:31:01 PM

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