You know how there are some
people who you meet for the first time, but you feel like you have
known forever or in some previous life?
To me, Kyle was one of those people.
Kyle’s presence could take up an
entire room. At least that is how I felt
the very first time the light caught on his red hair. I was a bundle of nerves, excitement, and
just about every emotion every imaginable at my very first 2010 Transplant
Games in Madison, Wisconsin. I was so
wrapped up in all the feelings of the games that I didn’t even register as an
athlete. I was a registered spectator that was
trying to absorb everything and everyone.
I remember feeling like a stranger in a strange land in that massive and
chaotic room of signing-in and then just seeing a red head of hair.
The guy with the red hair turned around,
smiled easily and brightly at me, and said, “Pretty crazy, huh?”
had formed a friendship. Kyle and I immediately
clicked and connected over the fact that we were two of the few very young
transplant recipients. When he told me
that he received his heart transplant when he was 8-months-old, I breathlessly
said, “Wow. You beat me and my two
kidney transplants at 5-years-old and 12-years-old.”
He just laughed
that easygoing chuckle of his. He went
on to tell me that he was doing his usually athletic competitions in swimming.
Swimming! I thought excitedly. Ahhh….another thing we had in common!
When I confessed to Kyle that I was a water lover, but not swimming this time around, he said to me, “Oh, you really have to swim at the 2012 Transplant
Games! You will never forget the first
time you compete! You will always remember
why we are here and why this is all worth it!
It is so much fun!”
So, when 2012 came and the
Transplant Games of America were announced in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I finally
signed up for two swimming competitions with Kyle’s words in the back of my
mind along with the many other extraordinary transplant recipients who had
become my family and friends rolled into one.
I was an absolute nervous wreck
on the pool deck for the swimming competitions at the 2012 Transplant Games of
America. I could not stop pacing around
to ease the knots and butterflies in my stomach. I could not stop talking about how nervous I
was. I had to keep reminding myself that
this was all for fun and all us transplant recipients giving our all at these
athletic events were tributes to our organ donors and their loved ones who
saved our lives.
I saw Kyle on our common
territory that we loved—the pool deck.
Two years had gone by and he still looked the same. Easygoing and happy demeanor, smile planted
on his face, and ready to jump into the pool just for grins and giggles rather
than just for the competition.
When he saw me, his eyes lit up
and he said, “Ahh…you are going to swim!”
My mouth felt like cotton and I
felt so sick to my stomach that I could not even say anything.
Kyle said to me, “Just have fun!”
So, I had fun. I jumped in the water, swam the fastest I
could, and let the roar of cheers boost me up to a dimension that I had never
experienced in my entire life.
magnitude of people and their roaring cheers gave me a natural rush and high
that propelled me that I would swim again at the 2014
Transplant Games of America. And, I just
kept thinking, I’m here and doing all this because of my organ donors and their
families who said “Yes” to organ donation and transplantation and saved my life
in the process.
When I got out of the pool, I bumped
into Kyle again. He gave me a high five, and said, “You did it! You did awesome!”
Our friendship was solidified at
the 2012 games with a photo that captured the two of us beaming from our natural
highs on chlorine and life.
When I look
at the photo now, I think about how you know you found a good friend and person
when the years pass by end up meaning nothing compared to that insurmountable
comfort and connection when seeing and spending time with that person again.
The 2014 Transplant Games of
America were held in Houston, Texas.
Again, I saw Kyle on the pool deck.
We hugged each other warmly to make up for another two years that had passed,
but truly, it was like there were no time gaps at all once we slipped into the
frigid swimming pool to practice laps to escape the scorching Texas heat.
Although the ice cold water woke
me up, I still was feeling internally exhausted from the long and rushed flight.
Kyle joked, “You need some RedBull!”
You’d have to peel me off the ceiling if you give me that stuff!”
I had a feeling that Kyle and I both had an
image of me doing warped speed and wired swim laps after drinking RedBull,
because we both busted out laughing.
Throughout my time in Texas, I
continued to see Kyle. He was always
with someone or, rather, a group of people.
He was always smiling. He was
always laughing. He was the picture of
health and happiness from his beating and beautiful pre-owned heart transplant.
On the night before I had to
leave Texas, I bumped into Kyle with his family and friends in the hotel lobby
that had turned into a major hangout and hub for my transplant family and I to
chatter, laugh, eat, drink, and be merry.
That night, we were all grins and giggles with traces of sadness because our times
at the games were coming to an end and it would be another two years until we
saw each other again.
Rather unexpectedly, Kyle said to
me, “Oh! I saw you walk with the ‘Transplant
Quarter Century Club’ at the opening ceremony!”
“Yeah! It was amazing! Everyone is so cool and amazing! They counted both of my transplants, which is
equivalent to 25 years. I’m the youngest
one in the group,” I somewhat boasted.
“Well, it won’t be for long that
you are the youngest one because I’ll be joining the group at the next
games. I’m just about to make the 25
anniversary of my heart transplant. By
2016, it will be 27 years with this heart.”
“Wow, isn’t that just so amazing?”
“So, I’ll be with you in in
2016, and we are going to be the youngest transplant recipients! It is going to be loads of fun!” Kyle
“Yeah! We’ll show them how it’s done!” I cheered.
Kyle and I high-fived each other,
and we said almost simultaneously, “I’ll see you in 2016 on the pool deck!”
These were his last words to
me. This was our last conversation. This was my last time seeing and being in
Kyle’s larger than life presence. Kyle
won’t be meeting me on the pool deck in 2016.
We won’t be swimming laps together, or give our usual vibrant high-fives. Kyle died before he could join me with the
Transplant Quarter Century Club and walk with me at the opening ceremony at the
And, I can’t stop thinking about
him and our times together. And, I miss
him so much that my insides actually hurt.
And, I keep thinking back to his words to me that always revolved around
I’ve probably only seen Kyle less
than ten times in my life and only three years if you count 2010, 2012, and
2014, but his last words of “Have Fun” every single time we met will always
stay with me. Kyle reminds me that it is not the quantity of time knowing, but the quality of time spent with that person. I have gained more from Kyle in our short spurts of time that I have gained with many who I have known so much longer.
Kyle, this is the legacy
you leave with me, your loved ones, and the transplant community and beyond: “Have
This one life will not last forever. Life is born and then dies through no
concrete choices, plans, or controls.
All that truly matters between birth and death is to live. And, I mean REALLY LIVE--To have fun, laugh,
and enjoy without any inhibitions, without any cares from what others may think, and without any second guesses to try to hold you back.
we always had so much fun together. You
always brought out the ‘fun’ in every life you touched and person you met and
in everything you did. I will have
fun. I will enjoy life. I will truly LIVE. I will tell everyone in the ‘Transplant
Quarter Century Club’ about you. We will
walk taller for you. At the 2016 Transplant Games, I’ll taste the tang of
chlorine and think of you and maybe even drink ‘Redbull’ just for you…..just make
sure that when I see you again that you will peel me off that ceiling if I dare
to drink ‘Redbell,’ give me some more of your famous high-fives, and swim extra
laps with me.
Most of all, while
you are resting in peace, make sure to ‘have fun’ in heaven!
Lots of Love