THURSDAY JULY 29: EXTRA!
STORY: Jim Gleason
you ever seen such a friendly environment as when the Transplant Games
are in town?
Everyone is filled with smiles
and the surprise of recognition as old friends from earlier Games are
encountered and such friendships renewed. Such encounters are often accompanied
with hugs of love, joy, emotion as recipients and donors come face to
face, many for the first time. Many are adopted families of recipients
or donors, filling the void of so many communications yet to happen between
the real donor and their recipient.
As emotion filled as such hugs are, there is something even stronger in
that hug when a heart transplant recipient is giving such a hug. As a
heart hugger myself of ten years since that big heart event, I am a student
of the physical hug, and both give and receive such joy in those personal
encounters. This year at the 2004 Games registration, I found myself supporting
the NKFs transAction Council table, offering support and information
to attendees passing through the exhibit area. Working with me were Rachael,
a recipient from Team Hawaii, and Erin, an NKF staffer attending her first
transplant Games from New York City.
As the afternoon moved on the crowds thickened and many old friends stopped
by for exciting and joyful reunions and the beautiful heart hugs that
so naturally followed. As I turned to introduce Erin, she politely shook
hands and looked hesitant at the exchange. Filled with my own heartfelt
enthusiasm, I tried to share with Erin what if felt like to be a transplant
recipient greeting old friends who often share the same enthusiasm for
life post transplant, especially as it involves encounters with the many
donor families now attending these Games. This is not an emotion that
easily translates into words. You really have to actively engage in it
and since Erin was not going to have a need for a transplant in any near
future, how to give her the feelings?
Watching her shake hands, I pushed the envelope and challenged her to
give the visitor a big hug. These were very wonderful visitors, each huggers
in their own rite, but as Erin found herself being pushed into such new
areas, it was apparent that her hug was far too mechanical. She leaned
into the hug, keeping a very safe distance in the process. All this
makes perfect sense for someone from New York City where you are taught
to be careful because everyone is out to get you or some such
danger lies around the next corner.
I found myself playfully introducing this young reluctant hugger with
lessons in hugging with many visitors who only too willingly stepped up
to share their special hugs from young and old recipients, from
donor family members, and especially from heart recipients who seem to
specialize in the famous Heart Hug mentioned earlier. Over
several hours of practice Erin got better and better, slowly
giving into the power of the hug emotions from so many different directions.
The topper was when a very young heart recipient of seven years age, a
stranger to us both, stopped by with her family. Pamela had received her
new heart when just 13 weeks old. I asked her to show Erin how WE give
heart hugs. Pamela never hesitated for a moment, handing over her bag
to her dad and others stuff to her mom as she stepped up and gave Erin
the most beautiful hug you have ever seen! Erin could not resist as Pam
wrapped her young arms and heart around Erin, pulling her close with the
love that only such a young heart transplant recipient can give. I think
Erin actually closed her eyes in the embrace, a huge smile lighting up
her face (were there some tears in her eyes?), as she finally really FELT
all that I had been trying to offer her.
From that point on, you could see Erin was converted and gave herself
into the hugs that came through the rest of the day. She had gotten it!
Obviously it felt GOOD.
Later that night, I ran into her waiting in conversation outside the hotel.
Waling toward her, I raised my arms to offer a hug, Erin smiled and came
forward with the real warmth of a heart hug. Boy, wait until some young
boyfriend discovers her new found skill.
For all those who offered their own hugs of welcome throughout these Games
to so many, thanks! The healing is so amazing to us all. And Erin, nicely
Veteran of 5 US Transplant Games
with a new hugging heart in 10/19/94