Transplant Games a Special Time for Participants
MADISON - In early August, nearly 7,000 people from as far away as Alaska and Hawaii converged in Madison, Wisconsin for the 2010 National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games®.
The games, which are an Olympic-style competition, bring together organ transplant recipients, donors, and their families to celebrate the gift of life.
Athletes as young as two and as old as 85 competed in the games, illustrating the strength and tremendous spirit that so many of the athletes possess.
Among the participants was Dick Mueser, a 69-year-old heart transplant recipient from Madison who has competed in three Games. He participated in both the cycling and swimming events.
"It was the most incredible thing I've ever experienced," said Mueser of his participation in the games. "To see athletes of all ages, from as young as 3 ½ to 85 who have had all kinds of transplants, it's truly amazing and the camaraderie that takes place is a really special time."
While training for the games, Mueser said he had three essential goals, which he's had since his first games in 2006: to show up for the race, to finish the race and to have some fun. He accomplished all three.
Twenty-two-year-old Ben Ziehr, who received a liver transplant when he was only seven, echoed Mueser's sentiments.
"The Games are about the triumph of organ donation," said Ben. "It's a very positive atmosphere."
Ziehr, a collegiate athlete who attributes a greater awareness of the need to care for his health to his transplant at a young age, competed in a laundry list of events, including the Track and Field Team 4x4 relay, 800 meter and 1500 meter runs, racquetball, volleyball and even the ballroom dance exhibition. And, he medaled in several of them.
The Power to Change Lives: A Meeting Between a Recipient and Donor Family
Everyone who participated in the Games will bring home incredible memories from their time in Madison, but perhaps none will be quite so poignant as the donor families and recipients who met for the first time during the games.
When she was only 41, Karen Messenger passed away from a stroke. According to her husband Kim, about a month before she passed, Karen expressed her wish to be an organ donor. Theresa Marchetti received one of Karen's kidneys. During the Games, Theresa and Kim met for the first time in person.
"It's comforting to know people are living a better life because [of Karen's donation]," said Messenger. "I miss Karen dearly, but it's a good feeling to know what a difference she's made."
For Marchetti, who at one time was on 48 different medications, the transplant has helped her feel better and stronger every day.
"I have so much energy and stamina now," said Marchetti. "I'm so grateful. That's something you can't put a price tag on."
Date Published: 08/16/2010