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The "Wu Word" Blog

The Medal Giveaway

So far, I’ve attended the Transplant Games of America three times. 

Each time gets better and fuller of love, warmth, laughter, happiness, and understanding that great gains come from great losses.  Each time, I am privileged to meet new organ donor families and living donors who have saved lives in a time of unimaginable grief.  Each time, I bond with more transplant recipients and families who give me the greatest gifts of comfort and understanding that my family/friends and I have not been alone.  It is a humbling privilege and honor to be a part of such an extraordinarily grateful and loving family as the transplant family. 

The Transplant Games of America (TGA) consists of state teams.  The state team that I belong to that has doubled in size this 2014 year is “Team Liberty.”  Because the Transplant Games of America of a packed and overwhelmingly emotional and physical roller coaster of a ride, I never have the chance to talk to all my fellow team members. 

It was in the Hilton hotel lobby that was filled to the brim of Transplant Games of America attendees sporting shiny state team pins and colorful team attire that I happened to bump into one of my Team Liberty members who had received a kidney and pancreas transplant. 

His story had been featured at the opening ceremony, so I grinned at him, gave him a big hug (you can do that at the TGA—hug any transplant-related family member and you won’t be seen as crazy!), and exclaimed, “I loved that your story was featured at the opening ceremony!  I never knew your story.  Congrats!”

He smiled right back, thanked me, and seeing the medals that were hanging around my neck, he asked: “What did you get your medals in?”

I proclaimed proudly, “Two silver in swimming team relays, one bronze in 100 free individual swimming, and one in corn hole.  I was totally shocked about that one, because I sucked at it!” 

I asked him what medals he had received.  Once telling me this, he said, “You know, I’m going to give the medal to our local organ procurement organization (OPO), to somehow dedicate and honor these medals to organ donor families.  After all, it all comes down to these organ donor families.”

Time stopped still for me.  My weighted down neck from the medals suddenly felt heavier.   A pit in my stomach formed.  His words and projected project touched and affected me so deeply with the greatest reminder that I would not have even attended the Transplant Games of America if it were not for both my organ donor families saying “YES” to organ donation.

The medals this year seemed extra special, extra-ordinary, and extra ethereal because Ana Stenzel’s smiling face was etched into them.  The medals this year seemed extra special, extra-ordinary, and extra ethereal because Ana Stenzel’s smiling face was etched into them.  Ana was a double-lung recipient who tragically died last year after her fight with cancer.  She was a tireless advocate on behalf of the transplant community, top notch swimmer, and a spirit that was in a league of her own.  She was 41-years-old. 

Our conversation brought on an "Ah-Hah" or "Light Bulb" moment.  I am now on a personal project and quest known as “The Medal Giveaway”—giving my medals to those who have profoundly and significantly enhanced and made my quality of life and living better.

If I knew who both my organ donors and their families were, they would be the first that I would give the medals to.  But, since they continue to remain anonymous by face, but family by spirit to me, I pondered long and hard about who else to give my medals to. 

Undoubtedly, I have saved a medal for the local OPO that my team member had mentioned. 

I immediately wanted to give another medal to “Coach K”—my coach who had patiently and diligently strength trained and swim trained with me.

I wanted to give a medal to my nephrologist who had literally kept me alive with his medical expertise and beyond top notch bedside manners. 

Finally, I wanted to give the medal to my father, who I affectionately call “Papa Wu” for him always being there as the steady rock and unbreakable force throughout my life and with each medical or life hurdle that has come my way.

I purposefully gave my silver team relay medal to my nephrologist.  I explained to him, “Dr. B, I will always remember when you told me that I was ‘gold’ when I was going for the gold.  This silver team relay was a team effort of three kidney recipients and one double-lung recipient.  I want you to have it.”

He was speechless, and all he could do was envelope me in a tight hold that left an emotional imprint on me. 

I purposefully gave yet another silver team relay medal to my Dad.  I said, “I want you to have it.  There aren’t any words to say except you deserve it.” 

 My other two medals will be given to the local OPO and my swim/strength trainer coach.  For now, I look at them lovingly and memories of this latest remarkable Transplant Games of America flood me with such unexplainable joy. 

I have told people of my “Medal Giveaway” project and they immediately comment that this is very generous of me. 

My response is simply this, “What am I going to do with them?  Stare at them and puff up my ego?  No, I’m going to give them away to those who have wrapped me up in love and who have made my life and living all the more fuller and better.”

Besides, I think to myself, Ana Stenzel’s smiling face and story along with all of our stories will be given forward to make the greatest difference to those who are waiting for a life-saving gift as well as to honor organ donor families and living donors.

Most of all, I already gained my greatest medals of life and living when I received two of my kidney transplants. 

I could never ask or want for better, truer, and more selfless medals than my pre-owned kidney beans from complete strangers that have given me chances and 25 years of life and living in total.

Keep smilin’,
Mary ;-) 

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