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“I said no. We’ve seen enough. I said no, I’m done. I was pretty vocal.”
David Peterson, 51, at first refused the doctors who asked if he would donate the organs of his 17-year-old daughter, Brook, for transplant after her fatal car accident on August 22, 2008. Fortunately, his wife, Jean, 50, knew what Brook would want.
“For some reason, we had talked about it and she said, ‘Yeah, I want to do that.’ She was a very giving person, a very caring person in the first place,” said Mrs. Peterson.
Today, David and Jean of Custar, Ohio, are major proponents of organ donation. To show their support of organ donation and their pride in being a donor family, they will be attending the Transplant Games of America in Houston beginning today and running through Tuesday.
This will be the Petersons’ third Transplant Games as representatives of Northern Ohio. Life Connections of Ohio, a not-for-profit agency designated by the federal government as the Organ Procurement Organization for Northwest and West Central Ohio, contacted the Petersons about being representatives at the games in 2010, and the family has attended ever since.
The games, held in a new city every two years, are an Olympic-style sporting event for people who have received transplants. Competition is open to living donors, organ transplant recipients, bone marrow recipients, and a limited number of corneal and tissue transplant recipients.
While only the living donors and transplant recipients participate in the games, the donor families have an integral role, as well.
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“We have a list of where all of the Team Ohio participants are competing this year, so we’ll go to all the events we can and cheer them on,” Mr. Peterson said. Mr. and Mrs. Peterson agree that there is no greater feeling than watching transplant recipients, many of whom were near death at one point, thrive in these competitions thanks to generous people like Brook.
There are several special activities for the donor families. The Petersons will participate in the 5K walk that is open to everyone. Additionally, there is a grieving room for families, and a quilt pinning in which families contribute patches to commemorate their lost loved ones. Families also receive prayer shawls and Gift of Life Donor Medallions.
For the opening ceremonies of the games, the athletes have a procession into the stadium, divided into groups based on whether they are living donors or organ recipients. Donor families also get their own entrance, and usually receive a standing ovation from the crowd, Mrs. Peterson said.
The games are meant to celebrate the success of organ donation, but they also serve as a family reunion of sorts. Kara Steele, the director of community services for Life Connection of Ohio, said people like the Petersons can meet donor families in similar situations. She said the Petersons even adopted recipients at their first games in Madison, Wisconsin.
“The first games we went to, we met up with a lot of recipients that didn’t get to meet their donors,” Mr. Peterson said. “So they kinda take us in as their donor family.”
The Petersons also have seen recipients meet their donors for the first time at the games. “Everybody there understands these things. It’s very overwhelming,” Mrs. Peterson said.
When Brook died, she donated both kidneys and her liver. The Petersons have since met two of the three recipients of Brook’s organs.
They met Ashley McCarley, the recipient of Brook’s liver, who was 18 when she had her transplant surgery. She died in November, 2013. Mrs. Peterson has written letters to the recipient of one of Brook’s kidneys, a woman with two children from Georgia whose name she does not know because of confidentiality agreements, but has received no responses.
However, the Petersons became close friends with Jim Whatley, the recipient of Brook’s other kidney. Mrs. Peterson and Mr. Whatley, 68, corresponded via letters and phone calls after his transplant surgery before meeting in August, 2009, on the one-year anniversary of the transplant. Mr. Whatley and his wife, Kaye, and the Petersons have continued to visit one another every year.
Tonya Gomez, the Team Ohio co-captain who is a double lung recipient, said about 3,000 people registered for the Houston games, compared to the 1,500 participants in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2012. Team Ohio has 90 registered attendants this year.
Contact Kathleen Ashcraft at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6050.