Transplant games provide opportunities for recipients to compete, express gratitude

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11 2013 9:29 p.m. MDT

Utahns participated in the World Transplant Games in Africa this month with great success and even more gratitude. From left to right: Rick Lilly, Nate Norman, Jesse Norman and Mykel Ramsey.

Courtesy Mykel Ramsey

Enlarge photo»

SALT LAKE CITY — Nate Norman has always loved athletics.

But nothing has made him appreciate those opportunities more than competing at the World Transplant Games in Africa earlier this month.

“It means a lot,” he said of being able to compete in athletic competitions for those who’ve been the recipients of organ donations. “There was about six weeks where you can’t exercise while your body is recuperating. The day before the six weeks was up, I started running. One of the hardest things I’ve done was just to run a mile.”

At the World Games, Norman competed in the 100-meter sprint, shot put and was a member of the 4-x-100-meter relay team. The relay team took third, while he won a gold medal in the high jump. He received a kidney from his uncle in the fall of 2011 after doctors realized he had a genetic disorder that made the tissue in his kidney harden so it failed to filter his body’s toxic waste properly.

“I had no idea what it was,” said the Salt Lake man, who competed in his second World Transplant Games. “I thought it was me being lazy.”

Not only did Norman have a kidney transplant, but his father, Jesse Norman, 49, had a transplant 10 months later to save his life.

It was Nate’s uncle who donated a kidney to Nate, who said there aren’t really words to express gratitude for the gift organ donors give. His uncle said thanks weren’t necessary.

“I try to take care of myself,” said Norman, 21. “That’s the only way I know how to say thank you.”

He said the World Transplant Games give recipients a chance to meet others who understand what they’ve been through.

“I’m grateful for this chance,” he said. “Especially at the World Games, there are a lot of people doing a lot of great things. People working this hard, you want to overcome; you want a reason to be better. It’s a humbling experience to meet people from all over the world.”

West Haven’s Mykel Ramsey has endured two kidney transplants after focal segmental glomerulosclerosis cost her both kidneys. Her family was told her first donated kidney, which the now 21-year-old received as a toddler, would ony last two to four years, but she made it until 2008 when doctors told her she was again in kidney failure.

The 21-year-old received her second kidney 19 days after going on the transplant list, and it’s been four years without the disease for her so far. She won four medals at the World Transplant Games in 2012, and while she didn’t win any medals in Africa, she said the experience was worth the work.

“It’s an honor to go and compete with people who’ve gone through the same thing you’ve gone through,” said Ramsey, who finished fifth and ninth in tennis competitions. “You can connect on a personal level.”

She said one of the most moving parts of the games is when the loved ones of organ donors are honored.

“These families get a standing ovation,” she said. “There is not a dry eye in the crowd because of what they’ve done for us.”

Rick Lilly of Layton earned a gold in bowling doubles and a silver in singles, as well as a bronze in lawn bowling. He received a kidney from his father in February of 1998, and both men are doing well.

“I owe my life to my dad and his life-saving organ donation,” Lilly said. He won a gold, two silvers and a bronze in the 2012 games.

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