Transplant athletes go for gold

Sparks-Reno transplant survivors show their gratitude to donors by competing in the Transplant Games.

Eugene Paik
Special to the Sparks Tribune
On Feb. 1998, Sparks resident Tracy Copeland noticed some physical discomfort and a strange discoloration in her eyes. A couple months later, she slipped into a coma from liver failure.
Copeland’s condition was serious enough that she was catapulted to the top of the organ waiting list, and a matching liver was found only a few days into her coma.

Six months after her ordeal, Copeland, an avid cyclist before the transplant, resumed her passion for cycling and climbing.
Last month, her athletic prowess garnered her four gold medals and one bronze medal in the 2004 U.S. Transplant Games in Minneapolis, Minn.

“It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come from that transplant,” Copeland said.

Along with fellow Reno-Sparks residents Linda Bergman, Wes Knowlden, Quincy Sweeney, Karen Walsh and Ken Kyle, Copeland is a part of the 16-member Team Nevada that won 14 medals in the Transplant Games, a four-day competition for organ-transplant recipients.

Copeland, a two-time gold-medal winner in 2002, said her success could be credited to the support and encouragement she received from her teammates.

“They’ve been great friends to me and have been great at cheering me on,” she said.

Bergstrom, a liver-transplant survivor, agreed.

“Team Nevada is one of the few teams where teammates support each other,” she said. “I thought that was fantastic.”

Copeland added that support from her donor family has also helped motivate her to compete.

The family of 19-year-old Terry Snow, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1998, has remained in close contact with Copeland ever since she wrote to them shortly after her surgery.

“My situation was perfect,” Copeland said. “I contacted them six months later and they wrote back immediately and arranged a meeting.”

The family now travels with Copeland to events like the Transplant Games and is actively involved in coordinating transplants in Southern California.

“My family grew by five,” Copeland said. “I was extremely blessed to meet them and share my accomplishments with them.”

Copeland’s Team Nevada teammates agreed, saying that competing in the games is a way of expressing gratitude for the gift given by their donor.

“Taking our donor families with us to the games is one way that we can honor them,” Bergstrom said.

Knowlden, a gold-medal winner for track and field, said the importance of the Transplant Games is not winning medals but raising awareness of organ transplants.

“It’s a chance to give back what was given,” he said. “It’s great to have yesterday, tomorrow and right now.”

According to Copeland, 86,000 patients are on the waiting list for organ transplants. Of that group, 56,000 are waiting for donated kidneys.

Every 14 minutes, a new name is added to the list, she said.
For Knowlden, the Transplant Games also provides an opportunity for the team to show that transplant survivors lead normal lives.

“We want to show people that we do live healthy, regular lives,” Knowlden said. “We want to show that there is life after transplant.”

Published 8-30-04

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