Frederick Herbert, Chairman of the National Kidney Foundation,
welcomed the donors. "You can see here at the Transplant
Games," he said, "that your gift is allowing the recipients
to do exactly what the gift was intended for: living!"
The event was hosted by the National Donor
Family Council, which Vicki Crosier helped found and now
chairs. In just eight years, the group has grown to eight
hundred members. Crosier commented on the growing profile
donors have achieved since she became a donor mother. "Twenty
years ago we were invisible," she said. "But boy oh boy,
we are not invisible anymore!"
The audience was energized by a speech by
kidney recipient Gerard Migliore, who opened his talk by
confessing that he not only had failed to win any medals
so far, he couldn't pin his race number on his shirt correctly.
After struggling with it for some time earlier that day
at the track, he thought he had finished the job until he
discovered in the bathroom that he'd pinned his shirt and
Having won over the crowd with his trademark
self-effacing humor, he sought more serious terrain. Migliore
paraphrased the theme of the Oscar-nominated movie, "Saving
Private Ryan," in which a World War II unit makes great
sacrifices to spare the Ryan family from losing their fourth
son in the war. When the soldiers finally rescue Private
Ryan, Tom Hanks' character admonishes Private Ryan, "Earn
Migliore drew parallels to organ donors and
their recipients. "You have all made tremendous sacrifices,
and we all feel the need to justify the fact that you saved
our lives." And the only way to do that, he added, is to
lead productive, meaningful lives.
Like Private Ryan, Migliore lost three brothers
-- not to enemy fire, but to kidney disease. When he was
in college, Migliore himself almost become the fourth son
to fall victim.
Characteristically, however, Migliore told
the story of his struggle not with pathos but humor.
"Dialysis was tough," he said. "I was in college.
And being in college and being on dialysis is a challenge,
especially meeting girls. I remember at a party one time
I saw a cute girl across the room. I smiled at her. And
she smiled back! I'm thinking, maybe I have a chance here.
Sure enough, she walked up to me and I said, 'How are you?'
And she said, 'Fine. How are you feeling?'
"'Great, I said. 'Why?'
"'Because you look awful.'"
Migliore then described what it's like to
be put on the waiting list for an organ donation. "At first
you think every time the phone rings it might be The Call,"
he said. "Your hopes are high. The days pass. Then it becomes
weeks, and months, and years, and you get sicker, and your
hope fades a bit.
"But when the call finally comes -- I waited
two years -- you get a burst of excitement, and relief.
You're going to live. But then a few moments later you remember
that the call came because someone else died, and you let
that sink in."
But as all donor families and their recipients
know, the tragedy is followed by a miracle -- and Migliore's
recovery would qualify as one.
"I've got energy again," he said. "I can play
sports. I've got a great job. And one day in the office
cafeteria, I saw a beautiful woman and I went up to her
-- and this time she didn't say 'You look awful!' So I thought,
I have a shot. She's now my wife. And all this wouldn't
be possible without your help."
"People come up to me and tell me, 'Wow, you're
a hero. You've overcome all this and you're doing great,'"
Migliore added. "But I think, Wait a minute. I am a recipient.
I received. You are the heroes, you who were
dropped in the middle of an awful situation, with a lot
of pain, facing a tough decision. It would have been so
easy to crawl into a hole and let others fight that mission.
But you managed to look beyond your grief, beyond your pain,
and give something vital to others, the gift of life. People
you didn't even know."
"'Thank you' seems so trivial."
Migliore then quoted Tom Hanks, whose character
said, 'Earn this!' in the movie. "Dying for freedom isn't
the worst thing that can happen," Hanks has said. "Being
"Let me assure you," Migliore said, "that
your loved ones will never be forgotten. We will always
remember them, and appreciate what you've done for us."
Following Migliore's speech, the donors' names
were read aloud, and their faces were displayed on the screen,
one by one.
When the program concluded, there were few
Kleenex boxes remaining under each aisle seat.