by Randy H. Milgrom
Photography by Bob Garypie
and Peter Ottlakan
by Bob Merion
and Liz Schick sat smiling with friends around
adjoining tables loaded with nothing but other
friendly, smiling faces.
All of them - about a dozen or more of the 40
men, women, and children comprising the host Swiss
Team at the 2001 Winter World Transplant Games
in picturesque Nendaz - were warming themselves
indoors after the morning's Giant Slalom event
Andrea Schäfer is a tiny Swiss native who
was part of the original group that organized
the Swiss Transplant Team in 1991, and she is
this year's Team Manager. Dark-haired Liz grew
up in London, but came to Switzerland on vacation
at age 18 and has never left. Although she was
a co-organizer of the Nicholas Cup that kick-started
these Games on Sunday afternoon, this is her first
time as a Transplant Games participant.
This is the third time Andrea has competed, but
she says she loves the Games mostly because 'I
bring back a lot of friendships, and learn about
transplantation news from other countries.'
When asked how they did on the mountain earlier
in the day, Andrea shrugs and says, 'doesn't matter.'
Liz just squints. Clearly, the results of the
day's events don't matter to her, either. 'I don't
know. I just skied around those blue and white
Twenty four years ago, at the age of 16, Andrea
received a kidney transplant necessitated by congenital
defects that had been causing her health difficulties
since birth, while Liz, 38, received a new liver
just two-and-one-half years ago after suddenly
contracting a baffling liver disease. Though in
excellent health all her life, after complaining
of a stomachache or two she found herself suddenly
in need of a transplant within months after the
illness was finally diagnosed. A donor liver became
available following an eight month wait, and Liz
has been 'absolutely fine' since. Andrea likewise
says she has had no serious health problems in
the 24 years since receiving her new kidney.
These two strong and active women started in
different places, but after experiencing similar
life-changing events under vastly different circumstances,
they have become connected in a way neither could
have predicted. Separated, but just barely, by
the width of a sturdy wooden breakfast table in
a restaurant overlooking a yawning Swiss valley
(with the hidden, turning slalom course they both
braved less than an hour earlier remaining safely
out of sight), they shared a similarly vague yet
still peculiarly certain belief about keeping
a respectful distance from one's donor.
'I think it's better if you don't know,' says
Andrea, as she leans forward and clasps her hands
in front of her. 'If you know, and there are difficulties,
you are too near to the person,' she explains.
She was speaking of the possibility of a second
heartbreak - presumably for the donor family -
but perhaps for the recipient as well. There seemed
a hesitation about not wanting to cause any more
pain - a possibility that seemed real enough,
and perhaps just close enough to the surface,
to quell further inquiry.
Liz also says she has no desire to know about
her donor - though she already knows a little.
Almost immediately after her transplant, she had
a 'certain' feeling that the liver had been donated
by a man. Soon after, she wrote a letter to a
local transplant coordination center to be forwarded
on her behalf to the donor family. In the letter,
she consistently used the masculine French form
- 'le' rather than the feminine 'la' - in reference
to the donor. When a representative who had both
read the letter and knew the identity of the donor
asked her how she knew it was a man, her 'certain'
feeling was confirmed.
But she doesn't want to know any more than that.
And as with Andrea, there is that vague yet still
certain quality to the belief that this respectful
distance is the right way to act as host of the
'I just like that magic,' says Liz - of knowing,
presumably, yet still not knowing, all there is