A new liver. A new life. A triathlete is born

My education regarding organ donation came fast and furiously, and after I had received the gift of life.   The pink dot has always been on my driver’s license; it seemed like “the right thing to do”.  I had no idea the implications of that simple dot.  I had no idea of the size of the transplant waiting list.  I had no idea of the nature of the decision that would be made by a family faced with honoring the profound vision behind the dot.

My liver died suddenly for reasons that I still do not know.  In January 1998, I was healthy and active; in February I realized I was sick and on March 6th I flew to Stanford University in California.  On March 9th I was in a coma and placed on the transplant list.  My family gathered, but could only wait and pray.  On March 12, 1998, I woke with a new liver and a new life.

I reached out to my donor family early by most standards after my transplant.  I am so very blessed that they reached right back.  We spoke by phone and I met my donor family on the one year anniversary of my transplant.  I learned that my donor was a nineteen year old man who lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident.  Terry Snow’s parents, John and Kathy, had never discussed organ donation with Terry.  In the midst of their own unimaginable grief, the Snow’s made a decision that would bless several families with the gift in the form of a heart, lung, kidneys and a liver.  Five families received miracles that day.  Words cannot adequately express the gratitude in my heart for my donor family. 

Since my transplant it has become my strong desire to share my experience and accomplishments as a transplant recipient.  I seek out opportunities to show how successful organ transplantation can be while raising awareness for the growing need.  My donor family is an incredible part of that outreach.  Their strength, courage and compassion are unmatched.  Kathy was a nurse at the time of Terry’s death; she is now a Renal Transplant Coordinator.  Our lives have been forever molded together.  Side by side, Kathy and I now share our collective experience and encourage families to discuss organ donation.

During one of our visits in 2001, my donor family told me about the U.S. Transplant Games.  John and Kathy have accompanied my husband, daughter and I to the games in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.   I have competed in cycling, swimming and track.  With John and Kathy by my side, I was honored to receive the Jerry Cound Outstanding Female Athlete Award at the 2006 US Transplant Games.  I have been honored to represent Team USA at the World Transplant Games both in Bangkok, Thailand and in Gold Coast, Australia.  Over the past few years, I have begun competing in triathlons and hope that through my athletic endeavors, I may be able to continue to peak interest and show the success of organ donation.

We held our first Donate Life Walk in 2008.  Our goals were humble as we hoped to have 100 participants.   It became quite evident that first year that we could truly share the need while impacting our community in a positive way as over 300 people came out to support the walk.  It is my personal desire to continue to be a part of this wonderful outreach and to truly impact our community by sharing our stories, honoring donor families and showing the success of organ donation.  I hope that you will consider participating in the 3rd Annual Donate Life Walk on May 16th at the Sparks Marina.  

 I have truly been blessed with wonderful experiences and incredible personal recognition; however, the true heroes remain my donor family.  I hope to honor them and the memory of my donor, Terry Snow, in every aspect of my life.

Tracy Copeland

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