Each Day is a Tribute
In 1988, my life was forever changed when a doctor told me I needed an organ transplant. I had been an extremely healthy boy for 14 years, but it all changed one year as my body began to fail. Somehow, a virus had damaged my heart, and it had become so weak that I could no longer function.
We tried rest and we tried medication. But I only got worse. For nine months I continued to lose weight, become more lethargic, and show stronger signs of end stage cardiac failure. Eventually, the medication I took each day to save my heart began to damage my liver. But the final straw occurred as I began my sophomore year of high school. While sitting at the kitchen table, doing my geometry homework, I suffered a stroke. Soon after the stroke, I was put on the list for a new heart. The doctors said it was either a heart transplant… or prepare to die in 6 months. At age 15, I was suddenly confronted with my own mortality.
So I joined the thousands of people nationwide who were waiting for a life-saving transplant. My optimistic personality told me it would all work out. It had to… because I had too many things planned for my life. For most people on the list, the fear of never receiving that new organ consumes their lives as they wait. For me, I could only focus on the day at hand. What little energy I had, I used just trying to stay alive. The ones who really paid the price, who worried each day as they watched me slowly die, were my parents. They sat there helplessly, knowing that the only people who could save my life were strangers who didn’t even know I existed. But somehow, we found each other.
After only seventeen days on the list, I was one of the lucky ones. A heart was found and the match was perfect. But as I prepared to enter the operating room with my family praying for my safe return, I realized that another family was grieving over the loss of their son. That family’s decision to donate, during the darkest days of their lives, speaks of the courage and selflessness that we all aspire to achieve in our own lives. Every day I live now, each step I take, and every life that I touch is a tribute to my donor and his family.
Because of my donor family, I completed high school on time, with a school track record in one hand and a valedictorian speech in the other. Because of their gift of life, I was able to earn not one, but two engineering degrees from Ohio State. And since 1992 when I competed in my first US and International Transplant Games, I have been fortunate enough to win 35 medals and run in two Olympic Torch Relays. Two of my proudest moments were when I was chosen as the Outstanding Male Athlete of the 1998 US Transplant Games and when I received the Wendy Marx Award for Organ & Tissue Donation Awareness at the 2006 US Transplant Games. It’s now been 20 years since I received my Gift of Life. My family taught me the right way to live… my donor family gave me the second chance to make a difference in people’s lives.
I am sharing my story so that others will know that we need their help. We need donors. Because without them, the success stories like mine and so many others will never be.
As human beings, we sometimes find ourselves thinking about our legacy. What can we leave behind that will tell others about us? I am the legacy of one young man and his family who thought of others when called upon. I pray that I may be so lucky as to leave such a legacy when my work on this earth is done.