Organ recipients say thanks with lives well lived

Organ recipients say thanks with lives well lived

by Jason Hidalgo

7/21/2003 01:01 pm

Joe Stivers surveys the driving range at Red Hawk Golf Club on a warm summer morning, following through with a sweet stroke as he lets loose his second shot of the day.

A “whack” briefly resonates in the air as the ball arcs into the blue sky. Great shot, but not even close to the best second shot this 57-year-old Spanish Springs resident has ever had.

For Stivers, that second shot came in January 1998, when he got a donor’s heart transplanted into his body. Without it, Stivers said, his fate would have been painfully obvious.

“I wouldn’t be here today,” said Stivers, who has developed a better appreciation of life since his transplant.

“These have been the best 5 1/2 years of my life. Every day, I make a point to think about (how fortunate I am) and enjoy each day.”

These days, Stivers works as an advocate to help ensure others get that same second shot at life. Stivers said he owes it to both the selfless people who donate organs and those who have died, either because of organ rejection following transplantation or while waiting for an organ that never came.

There are about 300 people in Nevada waiting for an organ transplant, Stivers said. Nationwide, that number increases to more than 81,000, with 17 people dying every day because of a shortage of donated organs, said Phung Tran, a spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation based in New York City.

Contributing to the shortage are misconceptions and fears about donation, low rates of family consent and lack of awareness among family members of a loved one’s decision to donate, according to The Transplant Network.

For advocates such as Stivers, education and awareness are key in addressing those issues and getting more people to sign organ donor cards. Besides doing talks and being active in the local transplant support group’s projects, Stivers also tries to help raise awareness by taking part in both the U.S. and World Transplant Games. The National Kidney Foundation promotes both games heavily; the events are meant to promote physical and emotional rehabilitation through sports competition and to encourage more organ donations by showcasing the success of transplantation, Tran said.

Both events are held in alternating years; the last World Games was held in Kobe, Japan in 2001 and the last U.S. Games was held in Orlando last year. This year, the World Games recently kicked off on July 19 and will be held through July 27 in Nancy, France.

This is Stivers’ second go-around at the World Games. In 2001, Stivers finished in the top 10 of his sport, golf. This year, Stivers also will be joined by fellow Nevadan Karen Walsh of Sparks. Walsh got a silver medal in the 50-yard breaststroke for women ages 30-39 during the U.S. Games in Orlando. A first-time participant for the World Games, Walsh made this bold prediction for her place in the standings.

“Dead last, but finishing,” said the now-40-year-old Walsh with a chuckle, a day before leaving for France.

Then again, winning isn’t everything in the games, Stivers and Walsh agreed. These games are about camaraderie, hope, gratitude and showing people what it truly means to get a second chance in life, they said.

There is one reason Stivers wouldn’t mind getting a medal, though. If he does win one, he plans on giving it to the daughter of the man who’s heart now beats inside him.

“She was only 6 weeks old when her father died,” Stivers said. “I want to give her something to remember her dad by.”

Resources

o Organ donation: For more information on organ donation, log on to The Transplant Network Web site at www.thetransplant

network.com or the United Network for Organ Sharing at www.unos.org. Donor card readers are available from the National Kidney Foundation at (800) 622-9010 or at www.kidney.org.

o Reno Nevada Transplant Support Group: This support group for pre- and post-transplant patients, family members and friends meets once a month. Details: 359-8655.

o Transplant Games: Team Nevada is looking for transplant athletes for next year’s U.S.

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