Opening Ceremonies Program,
featuring Real Audio
you've never been to the U.S. Transplant Games, you can't know the incredible
sense of camaraderie that results when thousands of people gather to celebrate
the gift of life. An eighteen year old volunteer who had never been to
such an event put it very well: "Being here is the reason for
|The air was thick with humidity, and the temperature
hovered around 80 degrees F, making the crowd pretty sticky. Ominous
clouds filled the sky over the Ohio State University Stadium, threatening
rain up until the very last moment.
But the prayers of Father Fwasi Anthony Thornell were answered.
When delivering the benediction, he said he prayed "Oh Lord,
there are many parades you can rain on, but not this one.... There
is a sweet, sweet spirit in this place."
Remember the processional at the 1996 summer Olympics at Atlanta? The
pageantry was fantastic, no doubt. But only the Transplant Games have
the "sweet spirit" unique to a celebration of lives saved by
the selfless generosity of strangers.
|Athletes from all walks of life, with all kinds of transplants,
from all over the U.S. began lining up for the procession into the
stadium at 5:30 in the afternoon. As they assembled, they posed for
team photographs in front of a large poster
of the new U.S. postage stamp commemorating organ and tissue donation
(which was issued today) on their way into the horseshoe-shaped OSU
|The long-anticipated organ
and tissue donation awareness postage stamp was issued today,
and programs handed out at the ceremony included first-day-of-issues.
Senator Mike Dewine made the announcement.
|My thoughts turned to Ed Heyn when the stamp was unveiled - and
how I wish he were still alive to see his dream fulfilled. A kidney
recipient from Michigan, Ed worked so tirelessly trying to get the
approval of the Stamp Advisory Board, sending them updates on the
numbers of signatures (on petitions) quarterly for years. Today there
was a concurrent dedication in Barroda, Michigan, in his honor.
|Speakers and other V.I.P.'s in attendance gathered at the stage
area and were surrounded by the media, among them former basketball
player Oscar Robertson (who donated a kidney to his daughter) and
actor Larry Hagman, who had a liver transplant three years ago.
Wearing a panama hat and a light-colored suit, Mr. Hagman could be
seen talking to donor families and using his own video camera to record
the event, just like many of the other transplant recipients.
A colorful stage was erected at the closed end of the stadium,
complete with two huge video screens, onto which live video closeups
were projected throughout the ceremony, giving everyone a good view
of the goings on. Two people were on hand to sign the event for
the deaf, and their hands were often shown on the video screens,
particularly during the national anthem, during which their signing
movements took on a particularly graceful and flowing manner.
|Six hundred donor family members, many dressed in the the uniforms
of the team they accompanied to the Games, led the procession, entering
the stadium in silence. The crowd at the other end of the stadium
didn't notice them at first, but then broke into applause, and then
a standing ovation, when they realized they were donor families -
those very people whose generosity had saved their lives. The air
nearly crackled with the electricity of the moment!
|Leading the donor families were several
people, including Maggie Coolican (the donor mom who originated the
quilt) carrying the first section of the National Donor Qamily Quilt,
an impressive memorial handmade from squares contributed by donor
families. The quilt was hung behind the speaker's platform, and the
full quilt will be on display in the Drake Union
throughout the Games.
||Donor families were escorted into the front section of the stands,
which were reserved for them. Some carried photos of their loved ones,
and tears were not uncommon. Members of the Delaware Valley Transplant
Program gave each donor family member and living donor a Gift of Life
medal, and a fragrant lei.
Following the donor families were members of the Coalition on Donation
and other groups dedicated to organ donation and transplantation.
In the meantime, the lines of teams, in their colorful uniforms
formed a bright panorama seen stretching all the way around the
"Ladies and gentlemen, the athletes of the 1998 United States
Transplant Games!" At 7:00 p.m. the procession began with
Team Alabama, which consisted of just one man, who had received
a kidney transplant only three months ago. The Alabama team manager,
carrying the team's flag, ran it up to the area to the right of
the stage, to plant it behind a line of yellow mums, where a line
of team flags grew as more teams entered.
||You wouldn't believe the cheers, whistles, waving, and applause
that erupted from different parts of the audience as each team came
forward, carrying a team banner and waving at the audience. A
group of Team Maryland supporters waved Maryland flags at the top
of the stands as their athletes took the field. Team Louisiana tossed
Mardi Gras beads to the crowd. When the 110 members of Team Michigan
came in and were cheered by their fellow athletes, it was the warmest
reception that the maize and blue ever received in this, the home
field of arch football rival Ohio State.
|The larger teams got the largest reaction, but everyone was cheered,
with special notice given to the one- or two-person teams, the youngest
athletes - who often travelled at the front of their team, in strollers.
The atmosphere was festive, with old friends hugging in the stands.
|When everyone was seated it was an amazing sight: thousands of
people who, without the miracle of transplantation, would not be alive,
were gathered together with thousands of their friends and family
members and the donor family members who made the decision to save
a stranger's life. Add to that six hundred volunteers, the staff
of the National Kidney Foundation, and many notable guests, as well
as the media, and you have set the stage for the 1998 U.S. Transplant
Experience the Opening Ceremonies for yourself,
via Real Audio
See also: More photos