TUESDAY JULY 19: MINIMARATHON
SEE ALSO: I Will Run Again and More photos
STORY: David Stringer
PHOTOGRAPHY: Cheri Smith
Before and After
We heard that Tuesday morning's mini-marathon would circle past the University Hospital and were expecting that patients awaiting transplants would be out in front of the hospital to cheer on the runners. Cheri Smith and I (she's the photographer working with me) hustled over there to interview them. It seemed like an opportunity for a great "Before and After" story: Here are the sick and anxious people awaiting transplants, and here are the healthy people who embody the success of transplantation. It would be a story of hope.
We didn't see any patients. There were dozens of volunteers and hospital workers cheering on the runners, handing them sponges soaked in ice water and looking for anyone who might need help. The sponges tossed on the ground looked like bright confetti. Other volunteers were riding bikes along the race route.
A series of volunteers directed us to Transplant Coordinator Grant Fisher, who told us that the patients were too ill to come out on such a hot day. He also told us that he would try to arrange for us to a patient who was awaiting a heart transplant. He would be traveling in for an appointment in an hour.
While this negotiation was going on, waves of runners were going by us. Some were actually serious runners, striding in good form and pace over the 3K (for women) or 5K (for men) course. I was hot just standing in the sun. I was not running, nor was I recovering from major surgery. I joined in the applause.
As the race wound down, the runners were replaced by walkers. I joined up with Mary Rose of Melrose, Florida, a vibrant 67 year old 1999 kidney recipient. She told me that she is the third in her family to receive a kidney - not unusual with a genetic-based disease. She said she loves going to Transplant Games, she has been to all of them, and she meets friends from all over the world.
I let Mary go and walked with Monica Collins, whose nearly constant laughter expressed the happy-to-be-alive spirit of almost everyone at the games. Monica had received a kidney and pancreas 22 months ago. I asked her why she was at the games, and her hearty laugh and her answer spoke for many people here: "Because I don't feel like sh*t any more!"
I then caught up with Tom Awad from nearby Windsor, Ontario. He told me he had received a liver 2 1/2 years ago when he only had about a week to live. He said he was at the games "to pay tribute to my donor family and to all donor families." He also wants to show that at age 63 he can still "do a bit of athletics."
Tom headed back toward the finish line and I headed back to the hospital where I spoke briefly with Shelley Borritt and Joyce Davis. Both were volunteer paramedics - in fact, Shelley coordinated EMS for the games. She noted the "great atmosphere among the people here -- they are so happy to be here." Joyce, a student in the Paramedic Program, agreed: "There's such good energy. People are polite, and there's great team spirit."
Cheri and I moved inside the hospital to await the patient awaiting a new heart. Grant Fisher, who was to meet him, was worried that he was late for his appointment. Grant told us that the patient, Sergio Coccagna, had to travel from Welland, a couple of hours distant from London. There might be traffic delays, or he might have had a health problem. Sergio was 58 and suffering from coronary artery disease.
While we were waiting, Cheri and I spoke with another volunteer, Linda Tubridy. Linda, a teacher who lived in Australia for three years and now lives here in London, received a kidney from her brother a year ago. She and her brother will be speaking on Friday about living donors. She also volunteers to speak in the schools, raising awareness of transplantation and promoting organ donation.
At last Sergio arrived. My first impression of him: handsome, dignified, pale, slow moving, worried. We spoke briefly in the lobby of the hospital. He told me that he's known for about a year that things were going pretty badly. He was tired all the time and slept most of the day. In April he received a pacemaker, which he hoped would solve his problems, but it did not work very well for him. He described living in his two story house where his wife, Dee, had a wedding shop on the first floor. He'd been laid off from his Supervisor's job at Atlas Steel, and he used to go downstairs to help his wife in the shop, or to make her a sandwich for lunch. But he found himself too tired, and she had to go upstairs to get her own sandwich.
Sergio had never really thought about transplantation before it became his best hope. He'd had a triple bypass in 1994, and he knew that a transplant was very serious. "Thank God there is another stage possible."
His wife Dee joined us after parking the car. A warm and vivacious woman, she is the one who carries Sergio's beeper. "I'd be shocked," he said, "if it went off when I carried it." He described one time when the two of them were looking at a new house and it went off while they were looking in a window. They thought at first that they had set off the security alarm. Sergio knew this was a very dramatic moment in his life. He felt uncontrollable emotions, a combination of "Let this be my new heart" and "I don't want it right now - it's too much." Obviously the first emotion was stronger: "Let's do it." This proved to be a false alarm and he was not called in, but it was good preparation for the real thing when a heart does become available for him.
We accompanied Grant, Dee and Sergio up the elevator for his blood work. Bumps and knots in his arm made taking blood difficult, so he had a PIC line installed in his arm. He left the station unsteadily carrying a glass of water for his dry lips. We took the elevator up for his interview with his cardiologist.
Grant Fisher explained that Sergio is Status 1 (waiting at home) in Canada's 0-4 system - the labeling varies from country to country. Most of the transplant recipients are Status 1, but a variety of factors such as heart size and blood type are also decisive in deciding who will receive a heart. Grant estimated that several hundred people with beepers await transplants at University Hospital.
Cheri posed Dee and Sergio before they went in to see the doctor, advising him, "Be nice to her -- she has your beeper." We shook hands warmly and told him to practice his golf swing because we'd be watching for him at the next World Transplant Games, in Thailand in 2007. Cheri and I watched them walk through the door. Then we went outside to join the athletes.