SANDY — Shaun Coon didn't use to like spicy foods, but the man who donated a life-saving heart to him did.
That man, from Las Vegas, also liked custom-building engines and had a young daughter who took a liking to Coon immediately upon meeting him.
"I didn't want anyone to die for me to live," Coon said. But in September 2006, after "wearing out the wheels twice" on the cart carrying his biventricular assist device, he received a new heart and a new lease on life.
The now-42-year-old owner of Coonyz Customz, motorcycle mechanic and custom paint designer was born with a heart murmur that progressed to congestive heart failure. By age 29, he was so sick, he said, doctors wouldn't put him on a transplant list.
He did get a set of implanted pumps and expected that was how he'd live out his days, though, he intended to make them long.
Hundreds of Coon's friends and family members surprised him while he was hospitalized in 2006 when they rode motorcycles past LDS Hospital as a show of support.
"Just knowing you have that many good people rallying for you helped me fight to come home," Coon said, vowing to never forget it. Coon decided then and there that he would continue that ride.
"It touched me," he said. "I thought, 'I'm doing this forever' — for as long as I can possibly do it."
And last September during his valleywide ride, participants raised $8,000 that, on Wednesday, he donated to Intermountain Donor Services, a nonprofit community service organization dedicated to the recovery and transplantation of organs and tissues in the Intermountain region, of which Utah is a part.
More than 114,000 people in the United States are waiting for an organ transplant, and 730 of them are in Utah, including 57 in need of a heart like Coon once was.
He will likely take medication for the rest of his life in order to keep someone else's heart healthy in his body, but he most certainly wouldn't be alive today without that heart, he said. With his continued support and this donation, Coon hopes everyone realizes the impact a person can have by signing up to be an organ donor.
Intermountain Donor Services plans to spend half the money on advertising the Donate Life Transplant Games of America, an Olympics-style competition coming to Salt Lake City Aug. 2-7, and the other half was donated to the games committee to help the more than 180 local athletes participating among the 4,500 from around the nation.
"It's an amazing opportunity for patients to honor their donors and the donors' families for letting them live life," said Rachelle Montoya, Utah's Transplant Games team captain. She said survivors will be competing in track and field events, dart competitions, bowling, biking, poker, golf, running and more.
"I am the beneficiary of a tremendous gift," said Dr. Terry Box, a local gastroenterologist and liver transplant recipient who has participated in the Transplant Games the last five years. He said the events are some of the most gratifying in his life.
"None of us would be here without our donors," Box said.
The last time the biennial games were held in Utah was 1996. Having it close draws more local competitors, as about 30 to 45 travel out of the state to compete elsewhere in other years.
Alex McDonald, director of public relations at Intermountain Donor Services, said Wednesday that the games intend to show that people can live happy and healthy lives after a transplant.Comment on this story
"It's important to see these people today living life to the fullest, celebrating birthdays and seeing their kids graduate and grandchildren born," he said. "It's a wonderful thing to see."
Since his transplant, Coon, of Saratoga Springs, has had children of his own and said he has given up on wasting time being stressed out and worrying about money or business and other things.
"Life means more to me now," he said, adding, "now, I'm just chill."
To register as an organ, eye and tissue donor, visit www.yesutah.org.