July 13, 2008

U.S. Transplant Games Commence

By Karen Price

The U.S. Transplant Games kicked off Friday afternoon with a torch run that stopped in Market Square before continuing to the D.L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Surrounded by members of Team Pittsburgh and other organ recipients and cheered by donor families, Frank Holby, 63, of Economy Borough, ran the torch through Downtown. A volunteer for the Center for Organ Recovery and Donation, Holby told the crowd how, 21 years earlier, his 17-year-old daughter Michelle collapsed during exercise, suffered cardiac arrest and went on a ventilator for 10 days before being declared brain dead.

He and his wife decided at that time to donate her organs, and their decision gave two men new kidneys, one woman a liver, one a heart and another corneas.

"I did think on the way in about my daughter and about how that experience led to the experience I'm having here," Holby said. "It's joy, it's sadness, this whole process is a paradox. We didn't have an opportunity to meet our recipients, but we have received more thanks, and I'm sure they would have expressed it the same way."

The main goal of the U.S. Transplant Games, now through Tuesday at venues throughout the city, is to showcase the success of organ donation and raise awareness of the need for organ donors. It also gives both recipients and donor families the chance to celebrate the life they've given and received.

Gold, silver and bronze medals will be awarded in 12 sports, including swimming, tennis, basketball and track and field. The event is expected to draw 5,000 people to the city, including more than 1,300 athletes who've had life-saving organ transplants.

Sally Brinker, 66, of the South Hills, and Tina Rothermel, 47, of Baldwin, have been bowling twice a week for six months to prepare for the competition. They will compete in both singles and doubles bowling, Sunday and Tuesday.

"I am so excited," said Brinker, who had a heart transplant two years ago and is competing in her first U.S. Transplant Games. "This is all new to me, everything's a first."

Rothermel had a kidney and pancreas transplant in 1999 and is competing in her third games and said the best part is getting to meet donor families.

"It's overwhelming," Rothermel said. "Unless you've been affected, you don't really learn to appreciate it like we have."

Neither Brinker nor Rothermel has met her donor family, but each would like to.

"When you hear the stories, it's so tearful and it really makes you appreciate life, that you're able to walk and breathe," Brinker said. "I'm so fortunate. (Transplants) do happen, and they are successful, and here we are. We're proof that it works, so be a donor!"

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