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Transplant Games of America to come to GVSU this July

With over 112,000 people in America awaiting transplant, raising awareness for organ donation registry is paramount to the organizers of the Transplant Games.
Michelle Workman competes in the relay.

Michelle Workman competes in the relay. /courtesy of the US transplant games.

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/courtesy of the US transplant games.

2006 Transplant games.

2006 Transplant games. /courtesy of the US transplant games.

To qualify for the Transplant Games of America you must have either undergone transplant surgery six months prior to the games and be in a healthy condition, or be a living donor. This year the games will take place from the 28th to the 31st of July. 1400 athletes are preparing to take part, spread over 14 different sports. Previous years have seen the games bringing in between six and ten thousand attendees.

Bill Ryan of Ryan Marketing Group, also a board member of the West Michigan Sports Commission, has been heavily involved in the organization of this year’s games. Ryan is a passionate advocate for organ donation. “Many people think they are too heavy or too unhealthy for donation. Maybe that was true in the past, but now doctors will use all organs to provide any extra months or years they can,” he explained.

The games include various activities for the attending family or the individual, including zumba dance, fitness classes, barbeques, beach volleyball and rock climbing. The movie “The power of two” will also be screened. It details the story of two identical sisters with aggressive cystic fibrosis who both underwent life-changing double lung transplants. The movie will help to highlight the successes of organ donation, demonstrating how the twins have thrived. “Their post-transplant activities have included running a half marathon, climbing a 10,000 foot mountain peak, swimming and running in the U.S. Transplant Games, traveling across three continents and writing their memoir, 'The Power of Two:  A Twin Triumph Over Cystic Fibrosis.'”

In the Spring of 2011 the National Kidney Foundation, long time organizers of The Transplant Games of America, announced they would no longer be financially responsible for the annual event. The withdrawal of funding left many athletes in a difficult situation, many already facing the financial hardship of paying for monthly anti-rejection or other medication. T.J. Maciak, founder of the games, couldn’t accept that the event might not be able to go ahead this year. “I made it my own personal mission to try to find a way to make these games happen and I knew West Michigan would be the perfect community to pull this amazing feat off,” he said.

Maciak approached local business leader and board member of the West Michigan Sports Commission Peter Secchia to see if together they couldn’t formulate a strategy to “save” the games. Discussion led to working with Richard Devos, himself a 16-year heart transplant recipient. Devos provided the seed money to put the games back in action. Local sponsors, such as hospitals Spectrum and St Mary’s, have also come on board.

Michigan has ranked in the bottom ten for volume of registered donors, with only 27% of adults registered for donation in 2009. The national average is 42%. However, a drive by Ruth Johnson over the past year has seen numbers soaring. “All told, there was an overall 25 percent increase in signups for the Michigan Organ Donor Registry in 2011,” she said. Last year 398,000 adults registered to donate.

The opening ceremony for the games is set for 7 p.m. on the 28th of July at the Van Andel Arena. There will be speeches, musical numbers and"the lighting of the cauldron." Ryan stresses that the games “are a celebration not only of the athletes but also of the donor families.” He hopes that the positive awareness the event promotes will inspire even more people to register for donation.

Tickets are $15 each for a day pass; children 12 and under go free.

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