August 24, 2018

2018 Transplant Games – Salt Lake City, UT #TGA18SLC

My liver transplant didn’t just save my life, it also blessed me with family…..

At the transplant games in Salt Lake City this August, I met hundreds of transplant survivors, caregivers, living donors, and donor families. We shared pins, stories, tears, and laughs. More importantly, it was both a healing experience and a celebration. Team Southern California welcomed me to the team and treated me like family. After relocating to Los Angeles in May and starting a new chapter, it’s blessing to now have family away from home. Excited to build new friendships with all the inspiring athletes I have met!

My favorite part of the game was definitely the people and the stories. Every team had a signature pin and participants traded pins with other teams. Everyone shared a unique story, and each story was as beautiful as the next. Meeting all these survivors and heroes was very powerful, emotional, and healing.

There are many different faces to organ donation, but we all share a commonality for love, giving back, and the appreciation of life. We are family.

Meet my transplant family……

ALBERT (liver transplant recipient) & AJAY (family)

For the first time, I met another man who had endured and defeated the same battles as me. Not only do Albert and I share the same journey, but we also share a passion for the game of basketball. We bonded on so many different levels, and it was truly a powerful moment when we shared our experiences battling Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis and Ulcerative Colitis. Although this was the first games for the both of us, we look forward to building a contender for the next competition. Also, Albert is a diehard Lakers fan; Excited to catch LeBron and the Lakers with a true fan!

Ajay is Albert’s son. He filled the room with energy and gave everyone another reason to smile. He hung out with us the entire time. Albert says he was our mascot. Haha! His energy was contagious and he was our biggest fan. Although he thinks Steph Curry is better than LeBron James, I think he will change his mind after we go to a few Laker games this season!

ALLISON (liver transplant recipient)

Allison was a tough competitor. She is 14 years old and had a liver transplant at the age of 2. After I made a 3 pointer to start the game, she wanted to guard me the rest of the game! I played tough defense on her the entire game and she still balled out! She wasn’t scared despite my size advantage. She’s going to be back and ready to win for next games in New Jersey. Pac-12 schools take notes!

ERYN (living kidney donor)

Eryn is one of the most inspirational people I’ve met in my life. She made a bold decision to save a life and after her act of kindness, she has taken full swing off her life. She won 4 medals at the games, recently got married, and moved to California to start her next chapter. Looking forward to visiting up North and conquering some of the beautiful hikes with you! You have a beautiful story, and I know you will inspire so many individuals to embrace their power to help the world through organ donation.

PHILIP (kidney transplant recipient)

Philip has played for Team SoCal at several games. Despite a hip injury, Philip still showed up and competed. It was truly inspiring to see his mindset and confidence in his ability to fight. Philip is currently on the list for a new kidney and has been waiting for 8 years. If you know a potential donor or would consider getting tested to see if you are a potential match, please reach out to me. For more on Philip’s story visit his blog, The Living Testimony.

MATT (liver transplant recipient)

Matt and I go way back to all the different transplant and organ donation community events in Seattle. Matt and I had always talked about the transplant games, but for the last few games, I wasn’t healthy enough to compete. We were always planning to build a basketball team together to compete at the games, but life happens and I ended up moving to California. So I hope that at the next games in NJ, Team SoCal gets to match up against Team NW! Future rivalry perhaps?

EDWARD (kidney transplant recipient)

Edward was in hospital prior to the games, but he still made it out to compete! My friend Dr. Ken Sutha, who recently had his kidney transplant at UW (yay!!), introduced me to Edward on Facebook many years ago because of our shared mindset to give back to the transplant community. Edward is founder and owner of YNOTT foundation, a nonprofit “committed to providing support to pediatric transplant patients, Increasing awareness about the need for organ and tissue donation, and promoting health prevention and wellness in the community.”  We followed each other’s journey on social media for several years until we finally met for the first time at this year’s transplant games. Looking forward to connecting more with you and working together!

KYLIE (liver transplant recipient and cancer survivor)

I met Kylie at the University of Washington back when we were both still in school. After she shared her story on and I learned she was battling PSC, I reached out to her to offer my support. She was about to embark on the same journey I had completed. In 2016, Kylie had a living donor liver transplant from her amazing sister. After her liver transplant, she even battled cancer! Kylie is a true warrior, and as a fellow Husky, I am helping Kylie transition towards a plant-based diet as she trains for the future games. You can read more about Kylie’s story at her blog, Liv’er Die.

JOE (donor family)

Joe and his family were the first donor family I met at the games. Joe’s uncle was a fallen officer in Sacramento and he saved like the lives of many through organ donation. Joe was here at the transplant games to share his story and to cheer on the recipient athletes. Proud of you for sharing your uncle’s story and letting his legacy live on to inspire others. Thanks for the pins!

TERRELL (heart transplant recipient)

I met Terrell at warm-ups / shootaround. Seeing him move so quickly and play with such intensity was inspiring. So many people have excuses for not being active yet Terrell was out playing in two different basketball tournaments (Men’s & Co-Ed) despite having had a heart transplant. That’s a true warrior’s spirit. Although Team Iowa took a game from us, we enjoyed the challenge against a great team!

LESLIE (liver transplant recipient)

Leslie was our coach! Despite my hand injury, Leslie let me start. This was the first organized game I had played in 14 years. I stopped playing organized basketball in 6th grade due to my liver disease. To be back on the court playing with teammates who have stories just like mine was a blessing. At 75 years old, it was incredible seeing Leslie also check in and play. He is truly showing us how age is just a number.

Life is finite, we know there’s a beginning and an end. For some, the end comes far too soon, but there’s nothing more beautiful and compassionate than blessing another soul with more life as our final gift to the world. Thank you to our amazing donor families. 

Even with all we have been through, I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by some of the healthiest people in the world. A lot of these athletes were once zombies fading away. The transformation to now thriving on a national stage is miraculous. These games were a beautiful celebration for the gift of life and the power of organ donation; a testament to not only how resilient the human body is but also the power we have to take care of one another. Thank you to Salt Lake City, Utah Health, and Team Utah/Idaho for hosting these games. See you all in New Jersey in 2020.


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