On April 17, 2009, Alec Rampton was so sick, his wife didn't know if he'd survive the disease that was ravaging his liver.
On April 17, 2010, the 26-year-old ran the Salt Lake City Marathon grateful that a stranger loved life and other people enough to become an organ donor.
While he ran 26.2 miles, his wife, Megan, ran the half marathon in honor of the person who saved Alec and to celebrate a second chance that they wouldn't have had without the generosity and compassion of strangers.
Neither of them dreamed they would have been among the 11,000 runners who participated in the seventhth annual event just a year ago. In fact, Megan Rampton watched her husband go from living a young, healthy, active life to being unable to understand what was going on around him.
It all began in April 2008.
Alec (who happens to be the grandson of former governor Cal Rampton) was working as a commercial mortgage banker and contemplating graduate school at the University of Utah. He started to feel tired, and eventually it got so bad he went to a doctor.
Primary sclerosing cholangitis.
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The young couple was told the disease would eventually get worse, as would the symptoms, including fatigue and a deterioration of mental abilities. Within five to 10 years, he would need a transplant, doctors said.
"It was like a slap in the face," said Megan Rampton. "I just felt sheer terror."
That terror only got worse when just a year later, Alec went from mildly sick to severely ill.
"The first time we went to the G.I. specialists, they took one look at his blood work and at him and said, 'You're going to need a liver, and you're going to need it fast.' I excused myself and had an uncontrollable cry, a meltdown. It was very hard for me."
This was, after all, her husband who'd never had a health issue.
And now, he was fighting for his life. He was waiting for the generosity of strangers in their darkest moments.
The tough thing about organ donation is that it requires someone to decide to give their organs to others before they're really done living. Then they have to die in a manner that their brain dies before their body so the organs are alive and viable.
And if all that happens, then the organs have to be the right chemical match for the sickest people on the tragically long transplant list.
It is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking to know someone your miracle will be someone else's tragedy.
The only way the Ramptons could see approaching any of it was with gratitude.
Alec loved life. Megan loved life with him.
So they prayed a lot, mostly thanking God for helping them navigate emotionally draining, physically painful experiences, but also expressing gratitude for the donors and their foresight and generosity.
Alec deteriorated rapidly ,and in April of 2009, doctors moved him to the top of the transplant list. Five to 10 years turned out to be a gross underestimation.
They got a call on April 14, but the liver went to another person.
Again, they thanked God that someone else got that second chance. Deeply spiritual, they said they were confident Alec's liver would come in time.
In the days leading up to April 28, 2009, Megan watched her husband become disoriented, despondent and extremely ill.
"My uncle died from Lou Gehrig's disease," said Megan. "Alec's mind was flipping. He gave me that same blank stare that my uncle did, and it scared me so bad. I thought, 'Uh-oh, this is it.' "
Throughout those two years, they told each other what a cartoon fish from "Finding Nemo" told her friends when things got rough — just keep swimming.
At 1 a.m. on the 28th, Megan's mother went to the store to get him something he might be able to keep down.
"He'd never complained," she said. "And that night, he could only sit in one position. He said, 'I don't know how much longer I can do this.' And I said, 'Who knows, maybe we'll get a call in the middle of the night.' We got a call about 5:15 a.m. I just knew that was his liver."
"The most frustrating thing was waking up in ICU," said Alec. "I had tubes everywhere, and I wanted to tell everyone how grateful I was. I wanted to tell them how good I felt, and I couldn't speak."
He was released a week later, and he and his wife haven't wasted a second since. He decided to run the marathon in November, in hopes of raising awareness about organ donation, to celebrate his second chance and express his love for the donor he will never meet.
It wasn't until mile 22 that he really struggled, that he really suffered. His wife finished her half-marathon and came back and ran about a mile with him.
"I was thinking about all the people who helped me, my donor," he said. "People were cheering me on, and I got a little emotional. It was kind of an out-of-body experience."
He felt a surge of energy and emotion as he saw the crowd lining the finish area at The Gateway. He crossed the finish line four hours and six minutes after he started.
"We hugged each other," he said of his wife, who took a picture of him holding his medal and pointing to the scar on his stomach. "We realized we'd completed a journey as I'd gotten a second chance at life."
Gratitude overcame him, and he and his wife sobbed.
"Organ donation just changes life for the better," he said, choking back emotion. "Not just for the recipient, for the people around them, for the people around the donor. We can all share in this experience together. Life is such a beautiful thing. Don't waste a second of it."
And when it gets tough, if it seems ugly, just keep swimming.
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