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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Until Next Time

My daughter returned from her Transplant Game adventure last night. The hours counting up to when she would walk through the door moved slower than I ever could have imagined. I had an endless list of questions: How was the flight? Did she make friends? Did she take all of her meds? Did she drink enough water?  Did she get tired? What was her favorite part? What did I miss that was not posted on Facebook? What were her best moments? What didn't go well?

Finally, though, the moment came. I opened the front door to call in my other children, when at that same moment Jackie walked in with her father. I screamed, then hugged her. It was the longest we have been away from each other -or so it seemed. I knew she had a long day, so I tried not to bombard her with questions.

If you've been following my Angel Donor Page or my Facebook Page, you probably caught a few of my constant updates. The basic rundown is that she competed in Track and Field, Basketball and Bowling. She and her team did very well working together and she brought home a gold and a silver medal.

As we talked about her experiences I noticed something I hadn't seen in her in a while. She was glowing with happiness. Not just because of her accomplishments, but because of her experiences. She made close, lifelong friends in only a matter of five days. She saw first hand how much not only organ recipients, but also organ donors care about donation. She saw celebrities such as Scott MacIntyre support something that means so much to so many people.

She learned many things over these days about the process of organ donation and why it is important to be a donor. We had the talk that I always knew we would have...the same talk the main character Olivia has with her nurse in Angel Donor: "Why did my donor have to die so I could live?" Before I knew it we were discussing brain death and how the transplant team and surgeons care for donated organs.

She also saw examples and heard many stories of how donor families met with recipients. These events inspired her to write a note of thanks to her donor family. Although the family is anonymous to us right now, we can still send a letter of thanks through the Gift of Life foundation who will deliver the letter to protect the donor family's privacy. Somehow life had come full circle. Just 8 years ago I had written a letter of thanks as a parent for the gift of life. Now, Jackie is writing her own letter of thanks.

Over the hours that Jackie has been home, I have also observed the new people in her life. As mentioned before, she has formed friendships that will probably last forever. The friends she made during the games are people who have been through similar situations and are dealing with similar emotions: happiness, survivor's guilt, gratitude and sadness. It is quite a mix, but as I am seeing now, it is what real friendship bonds are made of.  She has already connected with the kids via her social networks, phone and e-mail.

Though the event only lasted five days, it caused a wonderful transformation. My daughter grew up a little bit, but it also helped her understand more about herself and what she has been through. Most importantly though, she learned that she is not alone. As she told me just this evening, "It's like living in another dimension where everyone gets you...right away. They just get you."

And so, now that these games are over, we look ahead to next time in two years. I have made a personal vow to myself during these days. I plan to train myself for a marathon via the Cto5K so that we can do the games together. I've got two years to train, but have the best motivation in the world.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Transplant Games: More Than Just Sports

As I write, Houston is in the middle of hosting the 2014 Transplant Games of America. This exciting event runs from July 11-July 15, 2014. The games is a "multi-sport event for individuals who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries." It is open to both organ recipients and living donors. It is not just a sporting event, but also an event to help raise awareness of the importance and need of organ donation.

This is an exciting event for many participants because, like how we worried about my daughter, family members often wonder if that life-saving surgery will ever happen. You try hard not to lose hope, but as the days tick away and your family member gets more sick, you begin to get more worried. Many do get the surgery they need, but too many do not.Just this year a special friend in my community lost his life waiting for a much needed organ.  For those who are lucky enough to receive an organ, it is miraculous to participate in an event such as the Transplant Games. For my daughter, she missed many normal "kid events" when she was sick. A doctor once shook his head as he was giving her an IV and said, "These kids should be out on the playground. Not in here." And now, thanks to my daughter's donor, she is participating in the biggest playground event in her life. This is what organ donation does.

The games happen every two years, and this is the first for my daughter. We don't know who her donor was due to privacy concerns, but nevertheless, she is running in that person's honor. For if that person's family never made the decision to donate, my daughter may not be here either. As she runs, so does part of her donor.

If you are in the Houston area and are looking for something to do, try checking out this event and go support the athletes and their cause. You will be glad you did. Good luck and have fun to everyone participating this year. Enjoy the events. Enjoy Life. Spread the word.