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Valley Residents Participate in U.S. Transplant Games

July 16, 2008

By Celanie Polanick, The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa.

Jul. 16–Surgeons removed Rudy Molnar’s first bad heart in 1989, but they couldn’t remove his love of bowling.

The 70-year-old from Natrona Heights, Harrison, was among more than 100 people from the Pittsburgh area — and about a dozen from the Alle-Kiski Valley — to participate in the 2008 National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games at the Petersen Events Center in Oakland, Pittsburgh.

Also called the Transplant Olympics, it’s a nationwide athletic event designed to suit — and to honor — people who have had transplants, the organ donors and their loved ones.

The weeklong games ended with closing ceremonies Tuesday night and a final golf outing today.

Molnar used to bowl in a church league, but gave it up when he developed the virus that led to his first transplant, he said.

His second transplant came in 2005.

But last fall, he said, he started bowling again to prepare for his first Transplant Olympics — and found he still loves the game.

“I hadn’t bowled in 20 years,” Molnar said. “It was nice getting back out there. I was really sore after a while, but I guess I got used to it again, because I feel pretty good again.”

The games have been around in some form for more than 25 years, and have been held every two years since 1990.

Now, the games draw over 1,300 athletes from all over the United States, as well as several international teams.

This year’s Pittsburgh team was made up of 125 athletes from western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

Not all the events are competitive — and not all the athletes are, either, said Maggie Pratt of the Dormont, who is one of the team’s managers.

To participate, would-be athletes must be at least six months from their last life-saving transplant, and that transplant must be functioning well, Pratt said.

The athletes have a wide range of skill levels, “but they all enjoy themselves,” Pratt said. “It’s a mix. Some are very, very competitive. Others are just excited to be able to have a life-saving organ transplant, and to show to their families that they’re survivors.”

Shane Carnahan, 19, of Washington Township had a liver transplant when he was not quite 4, because of his Byler’s syndrome. But that didn’t stop him from blossoming into a promising young athlete, according to his mother, Lisa.

“Really, we tried to treat him as a normal child his whole life,” she said. “Other people treated us as a different family, but we tried to have everything normal for him. Pretty much anything he wants to do, he does it.”

In this year’s Transplant Olympics, his second, Shane Carnahan won a gold medal in basketball and a bronze in track and field.

He is also studying graphic design at Pittsburgh Technical Institute, and loves to run “as a stress reliever,” he said.

He also loves talking to people who understand his experience in a way the average person doesn’t.

“The (Transplant) Olympics themselves, it’s pretty much a break from normal life,” he said. “It’s just seeing other people who don’t care about having transplants, like it doesn’t really affect them that much.”

Kim Krebs, 46, of East Deer said she enjoys talking to others who understand the impact of undergoing an organ transplant. She also likes meeting with donors and donor families.

“You get to meet people from across the U.S. and share your experience,” Krebs said.

Krebs suffered from juvenile diabetes and needed a kidney, bone marrow and islet cell transplant 14 years ago. In 2000, she needed a new pancreas.

“I was very fortunate,” Krebs said of the availability of organs after 15 months on dialysis. She said her mother wasn’t as fortunate and died while waiting for a kidney-pancreas transplant in 2001.

Krebs said raising awareness for the need for donor organs is another reason she’s active in the Transplant Games.

Krebs participated in singles and team bowling. When asked how she did, she simply noted, “We had fun.”

Successful heart transplant patient John Polczynski, 73, of Lower Burrell said he didn’t do too well in his bowling events due to performance anxiety. But he said the most important part to him was the friends he’s made. During the event, he said, “we joked and we clapped for each other, high fives, stuff like that. It was great.”

Organ donors helped make that experience possible, Polczynski said — that’s why the world needs more of them.

“A lot of people are afraid,” he said. “They don’t want to give up their organs or anything. I understand how wonderful it is to give this to someone else, whatever you have left. If someone in your family is dying, you hate to see that. But why let it rot in the ground when someone else can use it?”

Staff writer Liz Hayes contributed to this report.

Celanie Polanick can be reached at cpolanick@tribweb.com or 724-226-4702.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Valley News-Dispatch, Tarentum, Pa.

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