My Summer Vacation….A Patient’s Story
Spain, cruising the Greek Isles, the Galapagos, Israel…these are just some of the places I dreamed of going post transplant when I would hopefully have the entire world at my fingertips once again. Much to my surprise, my first post transplant destination turned out to be Madison, Wisconsin. Why Madison, Wisconsin, you may wonder? It was due to my strong desire to attend the 2010 United States Transplant Games, sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation. They were being held in Madison, July 30 through August 4. The “Games” are an Olympic-style event for people who have received life-saving organ transplants. I qualified to participate on May 4, 2007, the day I was the fortunate recipient of my new liver. I had been on the waiting list over 4 years and as my health continued to decline so did my thoughts of celebrating another birthday. As it turned out, I received the special call from my surgeon on May 4, was released from the hospital on May 10, and woke up in my own bed on May 11…my birthday. Can the term “gift of life “ be more literal?
I first learned of the Games at a NJ Sharing Network volunteer workshop and was hooked on the thought of participating immediately. I missed the 2008 games due to a hernia repair but looked forward to 2010. I was determined to be there! I had to wait until February 8, 2010 to register. The day finally arrived. I went on-line, filled out all the necessary forms and clicked on the submit button. A big smile emerged across my face. I realize that this may not sound like any big deal. However, for me it was the first time since going onto the waiting list in 2002, that I actually had made a plan to be somewhere outside the boundaries of NY/NJ six months in advance. It was an awesome feeling and I was truly excited! Final pieces of my transplant journey were beginning to fall into place.
And so, after much anticipation and some trepidation I arrived in Madison on July 30, with my husband and caretaker, Bill. I was registered as a “transplant athlete” and ready to compete in table tennis, tennis singles and tennis doubles. Before I left home I convinced myself that just being at the games and participating I was already a "winner". After all, there was a time when I thought I would never play tennis again and almost gave away my racquet! I wasn't sure at the time if I was just preparing myself in case I didn't win anything or if I really meant what I said.
Opening ceremonies were amazing. Gathered under one roof were thousands of people from across the country that have in some way been touched by organ donation and transplantation. Among the many, were recipients, living donors, members of donor families and equally important, transplant supporters as was the case with my husband. As a transplant athlete, I proudly marched into the arena alongside my teammates to a roaring crowd! I couldn’t help but think that everyone there could sense and appreciate the struggles that each of us had been through and all we have overcome. As the emotional ceremony came to a close, the torch was lit and an excited voice announced; ”Let the games begin.” It was official!
The next morning the competition began. The different events took place over the next three days. Swimming, cycling, track and field events, tennis, badminton, volleyball and basketball are just some of the different sports in which one could participate. Each morning you would see the athletes, clad in their colorful and distinct team attire, rushing to the various venues that were scattered all around town. As I checked in each day for my event, I surveyed the people around me and had to remind myself they were all transplant survivors. It was awe-inspiring.
I played each of my events with enthusiasm and intensity and I was thrilled and surprised to have won 3 gold medals. However, while I was standing on the podium and my husband was placing the first medal around my neck, I knew in my heart the experience was not about winning or losing. It was about being healthy once again, honoring the special gifts we received and showing the world that transplantation works! Thoughts of the long road I had traveled flashed before me and a sense of gratitude surged through my body. I have so much to be grateful for.
During the Games there was a special ceremony dedicated to the hundreds of donor families that attended. A highlight of the ceremony was a video presentation of all their special “angels”. Each picture seemed to capture the spirit and personality of each individual and it was impossible for me not to feel a connection to all of them, as well as my own anonymous donor, a 17-year-old girl who died in a car crash, and her parents, who made the heartfelt decision to donate her organs. It was a very moving, beautiful and teary-eyed ceremony.
Well, the flaming torch that initially opened the Transplant Games was extinguished at the closing ceremonies on Tuesday, August 3, and the Games officially came to an end. It had been an emotional and exhilarating experience. I met many wonderful people. All may have had a different story to tell but we all shared a zest for living and a tremendous appreciation for the “gift of life”. I am looking forward to 2012. Fortunately, I don’t have to wait until 2012 to relive the special feelings of family, friendship and camaraderie that I experienced at the Games. I feel all of that every time I attend one of our NYPH post support group meetings and more!
In conclusion, I would like to pay tribute to my donor and her family and thank all who helped make this journey possible, especially the staff at the Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation.
Forever a Grateful Recipient,