SIDNEY — A second chance at life. That’s what the recipient of an organ or tissue donation receives. For the donor family, they know a part of their loved one helped save someone else’s life.
For those receiving transplant, they have the opportunity to do things they haven’t done in the past because of their illness. With these new opportunities, many are using their athletic talents to compete at the Donate Life Transplant Games.
For a local mother and son, the chance to attend the games was something they didn’t image would ever happen.
“We received a call from Life Connection of Ohio,” said Pam Fultz, of Sidney, whose husband, Keith, was an organ and tissue donor after his death. “They have an organization called Second Chance Trust Fund which helps a donor family attend the transplant games.
“When they called us, we jumped at the chance,” she said. Fultz attended the games with her son, Kevin. This year’sgames were held Aug. 2-7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
While at the games, they were able to connect with other donor families and meet donor recipients.
“We also got to participate in different activities,” she said.
“There was a huge emphasis on thanking and honoring the donor families,” said Fultz. “For us, this (donation) was just something we should do when Keith passed. But that’s a trait that most people don’t have.”
The opening ceremonies were as impressive as the Olympics. One of the differences for the ceremony? The donor families walked into the stadium.
“We received a standing ovation from everyone in the stands,” said Fultz. “We received high 5’s from everyone as we walked in.
“Team Indiana was in the front row. They held up letters that said ‘Thank you donors.’ All the athletes were very appreciative of having a second chance at life.”
Each donor, she said, received a T-shirt with a donor applique on it.
Fultz shared that the appreciation for she and her son being a donor family didn’t stop after the opening ceremony.
“We had gone to a TGA Village and were shopping at a T-shirt place. I was going to buy a sweatshirt, but when I went to pay for it, they told me that an anonymous person had paid for it,” she said.
It turns out the person was a kidney recipient and he wanted to show “a small token of appreciation” to a donor family.
Another special moment occurred when they were in the airport. She had “Donor Team Ohio” on her backpack.
“A gentleman came up to me and asked if he could give me a hug,” said Fultz. “He was also a kidney recipient. I told him about the transplant games because he hadn’t heard about them.
“We want to continue to raise awareness and connect with people who understand being a donor family,” she said.
Some of the athletic events during the games included a 5K race/walk,swimming events, table tennis, cycling, bowling, golf, badminton, basketball, Cornhole, volleyball, darts and pickleball. Some of the bowling events were for teams made up of donor families and donor recipients.
Various programs and ceremonies were also held during the games. One event was the presentation of quilt squares by the donor families.
“We made a quilt square in Keith’s memory,” said Fultz. “Each person was able to say a few words about the donor. The donor recipients also make squares in honor of their donor. If the person didn’t know who their donor was, they made a square saying they were thankful for a second chance.”
When Keith Fultz passed away in 2016, the family donated his organs and tissues through Life Connection of Ohio. They have heard from a woman in her 60s who was the recipient of one of Keith’s kidneys. A man in his 60s received his liver.
“I’ve met the kidney recipient, Janice Weaver,” said Fultz. “Almost a year to the day after Keith had passed.
“Keith gave the gift of life to two people. He gave the gift of sight to another person. Many individuals received tissue donations.
“Sometimes the recipients feel guilty because someone had to die for them to get their transplant,” she continued. “A heart transplant recipient will feel guilty. But they should not feel guilty. They should take it and run with it. We (donor and recipient) are making the best of a bad situation.”
Fultz said doctors took 350 tissue/bone donations from Keith when he died. Of the donation, 112 were used to improve the lives of other people.
“Our son is a tissue recipient. He received donor ligaments,” she said. “It was an unknown donor.At the transplant games, he made a comment that he could come as an athlete. He would have been a Division 2 athlete, who are tissue recipients.”
The Ohio athletes, said Fultz, won 30 gold medals, 27 silver medals and 17 bronze medals. The oldest participant on the Ohio tam was an 89 year old man who died the shot put and another sport.
They watched co-ed basketball, men’s basketball badminton and participated in the 5K.
More than 540 athletes participated in the transplant games, she said.
“They set a Guinness World Record for having the most organ recipients in one place at one time,” said Fultz.
Fultz said the experience was overwhelming for both of them.
“I was overwhelmed at how thankful the recipients and their families are,” said Fultz.
“I liked seeing all of the people whose lives have been saved/transformed in a positive light because of organ donation,” said Kevin Fultz. “It was cool to see people playing sports with a new sense of being and energy.”
Pam Fultz said it’s important for family members to talk about organ and tissue donation.
“You must communicate to your family if you’ve checked the box on your driver’s license to donate your organs,” said Fultz. “And you’re never too old to be an organ donor. Skin tissue can be used to save the lives of burn victims.”
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822.