Enid debirk was at home relaxing on her couch when she won her latest gold medal. Make that her latest three gold medals.

Her son Todd called her from Pittsburgh with the good news. He'd just watched her place first in two swimming finals and the golf tournament, he told her.

Not bad for an 82-year-old grandmother who hasn't swum or golfed competitively in years and, for that matter, was roughly 2,000 miles away when the competitions were held.

All she could do was accept the accolades and say thank you, yet again, to the miracle that is organ transplants.


Enid gave one of her kidneys to her daughter, Sally, 15 years ago for the two best of reasons: Sally needed one, and she could.

She was 67 years old at the time, rather up there for a kidney donor, but a lifetime of clean living pays dividends, and when the doctors ran Enid through all their tests she came out with flying colors.

Given all the things that can go wrong in surgery, Enid wasn't entirely sure she'd make it. "I was prepared to leave this existence if it helped Sally," she says with the satisfaction of one who won the gamble. "I was pleasantly surprised when I woke up."

The results, as she further recalls, were instantaneous. Her two sons, Todd and Scott, came running into her hospital room and said, "Mom, wake up! Sally has pink cheeks!"

More beautiful words Enid has never heard.

"She looked very gray before," she says. "You didn't notice it so much, but you sure noticed it afterward."

Clearly, the new kidney was working.

Not long after she said, "Thanks, Mom!" Sally started swimming, golfing and exercising again — making up for lost time when her diabetes had slowed down her kidney and left her sluggish, lethargic and increasingly near death.

"Once that transplant takes place you are so much healthier you want to do everything you can. You get a second chance at life," says Sally, who was 35 when she got her mother's kidney in 1993.

Not long after that, she heard about the Transplant Games — an Olympic-like athletic extravaganza open to anyone who is operating with someone else's organs.

The Transplant Games are held every two years, and Sally has competed in every one since 1994, eight in all. In every meet she has won gold medals in either swimming, golf or track and field, and sometimes all three. At this year's meet, held two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, she won another three golds as her brother Todd, poised to call Mom, sat in the stands and watched.

Sally is quick to point out that she, like everyone in the meet, didn't do it alone.

"Almost everyone competing was in a position where at one point in our lives we were very close to death," she says. "The Transplant Games give us an opportunity to show that we can be healthy and athletic just like before."

They also demonstrate what people can do together.

"I won with a kidney 82 years old," brags Sally.

While back home relaxing on her couch, her teammate beamed.


Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.