Attending The Transplant Games
Organ transplant recipients who have experienced the Transplant Games speak about the event with the same sense of awe that you often hear when Olympic athletes talk about performing on the world stage of athletic competition.
While Olympians frequently refer to the daily grind they’ve had to endure and the dedication they’ve needed to get to the top of the amateur athletic world, for the transplant recipient athletes the road to the Games is arduous in ways that many Olympians couldn’t even imagine. Participation is limited only to those who have received organ and tissue transplants, and many have survived life and death struggles.
The Transplant Games over the years has drawn participants of all ages, walks of life, economic status, and physical condition. They have come from all parts of the country. What links them all in a common bond is the desire to show themselves and the world that they have overcome enormous health challenges and are able to participate in sporting events–and even excel at those events.
This is clearly reflected in two of the goals for the Games stated by the organizer of the event: demonstrate that transplant recipients can and do return to full and productive lives, and dramatically illustrate that organ transplants give people a second chance at life.
When the Games were held in Columbus, Ohio, they drew an estimated 1,500 transplant recipients who competed in sports including swimming, track and field, volleyball, basketball, cycling, golf, and tennis. Many brought home medals. All brought home memories that are indelible, such as the sight of donor family members taking part in opening ceremonies.
Members of Long Island TRIO attended the events, some as participants others as observers. Howard Fields was both. A kidney recipient, Howard competed in the badminton, racquetball, table tennis, volleyball, and basketball events and won bronze medals in badminton and racquetball. He also viewed the emotional opening ceremonies when donor families helped introduce the donor awareness postage stamp, and watched in awe as fellow recipients performed in a variety of events.
“It was great to watch people compete in events and not worry if they were winning or not, and to see the joy in peoples’ faces when they were able to complete a race or event,” he says. “It’s so inspiring to know people can accomplish things they never thought would be possible when they were sick.”
Howard, a vice president at J.P. Morgan, was born without a left kidney. The condition taxed his one kidney, which gradually lost function over the years. By 1994 his single kidney had deteriorated to the point where he needed to begin dialysis. He was placed on a waiting list for a transplant, and doctors told him to expect a wait of two to four years for a kidney.
In January 1995 a friend and co-worker of Howard’s experienced a personal tragedy, the death of his 18-year-old son in a skiing accident. The co-worker and his family made the decision to donate his organs, and made a specific request to have one kidney go to Howard.
Howard was filled with grief when he learned where the kidney had come from, but nurses explained that it was the family’s wish, and the fact that their son was helping to provide him with a new chance at good health provided some needed comfort to the family. The transplant was a success and Howard was able to go back to work and enjoy much improved health. There were some setbacks including several rejection episodes, but Howard now enjoys much improved health and is thrilled to take part in events such as the Games.
To help show his enormous gratitude to the family of his donor, Howard dedicated his performance to them and gave them one of his bronze medals. “Presenting my donor family with one of the medals was the best way I know how to show my deepest appreciation for the gift they gave me,” Howard says. He plans to attend future U.S. Transplant Games and is considering attending the World Transplant Games as well.
“Participating in the Transplant Games is a wonderful way for a recipient to show that transplantation really works,” he says.