Transplant Games personal for Team Iowa

BY TOM CLOS | JULY 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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When someone receives an organ, restrictions are usually put on their bodies. Sports are likely out of the question, especially the most intense ones, as well as any sort of strenuous physical activity the body may encounter.

But what if there was a place where there were no limitations? A place where organ recipients can celebrate their second chance at life by going for the gold?

Well, there is.

The Transplant Games of America were started as a way to spread the word about organ donation and how it saves many lives each year. Held every other year, the 2012 event will take place in Grand Rapids, Mich, July 28-31. Team Iowa’s roster will feature 21 organ recipients and three organ donors ranging from ages 4-68.

“They try to make it like the Olympics with everyone marching in during the opening ceremonies,” Team Iowa manager Kim Scadlock said. “We hold up the flags for each state and compete proudly for our homes.”

She is the mother of 4-year-old Beckham, a heart-transplant recipient who was diagnosed with micro-valve stenosis at birth. She said Beckham is doing well, and the games give her son a chance to have fun.

“Aside from a couple of small setbacks, he’s been pretty healthy ever since,” Scadlock said. “This weekend he is going to do the 25-meter dash and the 25-meter swim, and my husband will actually get to swim with him.”

For the first time ever, donors will be eligible to compete in the events as well as recipients. This has made this weekend’s festival extra special for Kurt and Stacy Merrell.

They have attended the Transplant Games since 2004, after their son Nicolas was diagnosed with a posterior urethral valve in 2001, which required a kidney transplant. Kurt Merrell turned out to be a match, and he gave his then-20-month-old son one of his kidneys.

“Getting to compete at the games with him really means a lot,” Merrell said. “The older Nicolas gets and the more he realizes what happened will make this more and more special for the both of us.”

The Merrells have represented Team Nebraska in previous years, but they will compete for Team Iowa this time around. Stacy Merrell said that this year’s competition will be unique because of not only the rule change, but the opportunity they will get to meet new people they can relate to.

“It’s such an inspiring and rewarding experience to meet other people who have been through the same circumstances as you,” Merrell said. “It shows how organ donation can save so many lives and what the medical society has done in that area.”

Nicolas was fortunate to have a parent donor who can share in the joys of life with him, but not all recipients are.

Kim Burdakin was diagnosed with acute liver failure in 2000 and was told she would die that same day if she did not receive a new one. Her sister was originally going to donate until her doctors found a match from a deceased donor.

“It was pretty emotional from one extreme to the other,” Burdakin said. “I was grateful my sister didn’t have to donate, but I knew there was a family out there who had lost somebody.”

That somebody was a 21-year old man named Steven who was killed in a car accident. This weekend will be in memoriam for him as Burdakin will be competing in front of some special guests.

“Stephen’s family lives in Michigan, and they’re going to be there on Sunday,” Burdakin said.

“They’re going to get to see me bowl and I’m so anxious to see them.”

Re-connecting with donors is a unique backdrop to the event and Scadlock said that it’s one of the many things that come together at the event.

“The event has been so wonderful for so many people, and it means so much to us,” Scadlock said. “The opportunity these people get to not only compete but pay tribute to the donors who gave them a second chance at life. It’s just so neat.”

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