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We All Come to the Games From Different Directions

by Jim Gleason

As we pack for the long anticipated US Transplant Games 2000, our family of nine are looking forward .to our first real family vacation,our first joint visit to Disneyworld, our 35th wedding anniversary present to ourselves and family for which the Games and this vacation serve as a backdrop of real celebration.

... this is a trip of great courage and faith, and hopefully one of healing too.

Six years and two US Games ago ('96 and '98) we were afraid we would never see our 30th wedding anniversary due to a sudden virus that ravished this 51 year old heart, resulting in the need for a life saving heart transplant. With the blessing of God, anextraordinary act of kindness from a then unknown donor, the support of family and a great
medical team at the University of PA, today we look forward to sharing the Games/Disney experience with our grandchildren, both born since that amazing day. As I call around for last-minute well-wishing for fellow Team Philadelphia members, I become aware just how different paths have led them to this special celebration of life - for each it promises to be a very different experience.

A donor mom travels with us. For her the last time she was at Disneyworld was with her son, a son who at the unlikely age of 13 fell victim to a bicycle accident that took her closest friend from this life. She attends now as part of her new mission in helping donor families and raising donor awareness, saving lives, just as her son's gifts of several organ have done for several others. Maybe they will be at the Games, too. She is anxious about the emotions of revisiting this place, and especially of the feeling that will be in her heart as she walks in front of the stadium of thousands to place her "star of memory" at the donor ceremony. For her this is a trip of great courage and faith, and hopefully one of healing too.

For another team member, apprehension is high for different reasons. As her husband of many years was dying awaiting his liver transplant, they sought the relief of reality by traveling to Disneyworld together, a final visit of joy as it turned out. Ten months later he died awaiting a transplant. She travels with the team as a volunteer, offering to do whatever is needed to help others challenged with the transplant experience. She is working to raise awareness through the Games so that others may not have to go through what she has. Her hopes are high that the experience there will override the emotions of loss since her last visit.


For another cherished member and leader of our team, this is a chosen profession (for which I am sure she must have very real doubts of her decision with all the last-minute emergencies and details that are falling to her responsibility on this the last day before the Games). With over 190 athletes and 700+ family members to coordinate, this is also a moment of apprehension. Will all the months of preparation and teamwork be enough to overcome the challenges that will surely come in the next few days? Already several reports are coming in that some team members will not be able to attend as they find themselves in the hospital at the last minute for various reasons. Her heart goes out for each of them as they have become such close family in her role as the OPO community relations professional who oversees such events. This has been two years in the making for her and her fellow OPO professionals. For her this is a time of very different feelings and concern, being the "team mother" that she is (yes, they give her the title of "team manager", but you know what I mean).

Another team member, twice a kidney transplant recipient (once from a living donor, his mother), and now a donor family member since the passing of his beloved father whose organs were gifted to yet others, is anxious for other reasons. Will he be able to provide the leadership for the team he has accepted responsibility for on the field of competition? A veteran of many past games, both national and worldwide, he is attending to last minute details (like returning the 3 books on How to Play/Score in Badminton to the library - a tennis player with knees that are aching with age, he is attempting a different sport this time). He is standing at the office copier, his final day at work before leaving for the Games - amazed at the feelings of apprehension - the "butterflies" in his stomach - yes, even with so many Games under his belt of experience, that nervousness is there. Will his team be ready for the big match? While many come to just participate as non-natural athletes to help raise awareness, there are many others like him who take the competition as seriously as they did their own transplant. In doing so they inspire us all, especially the less gifted like myself, at least when it comes to athletic ability. For me it's more desire than skill.

Together, we will arrive on many different planes, cars, trains, etc. We will each bring our own "baggage" - and that is often so much more than the checked luggage with their brightly colored transfer tags with hotel names on them. We will share this amazing celebration event of life's victories, each taking away from it new gifts of friendship, love, support and inspiration. Each coming at it from our own direction. Soon the flames will be lit, the announcement will be made: "Let the Games begin!" And the many teams of survivors will march into this new millennium 2000 Games filled with joy and other emotions only each will be able to feel and understand given those directions from whence they come.


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