Transplant Games honor donors, recipients

July 8, 2008 3:40:59 PM PDT
There is an old saying that everyone deserves a second chance. Well, a group of athletes who wouldn't have a second chance at athletics or life are now getting help from others.

Anabel Stenzel is a double lung transplant recipient, as is her twin sister Isabel. They're trying to raise awareness for organ donors by fielding a team at this year's Transplant Games in Pittsburgh.

"We have all been very close to death with severe illnesses affecting our organs. And then, with the gift of an organ donor, we have come back to life. That's why we're going to the games to show the world the success of organ donation," says transplant recipient Anabel Stenzel.

Team Northern California has 28 athlete organ recipients and 14 donor family members. The Transplant Games are a national event with over 6,000 participants.

"For the transplant recipients that are there, it is a celebration of life -- extended life they never would have had. For the donor families, it's a way to honor their loved ones," says Kathy Olmo of the Transplant Donor Network.

According to the Transplant Donor Network, 18 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant.

Zona and Jose Zaragoza's 16-year-old son Matthew was declared brain dead a week after a collision in football. His twin sister convinced her parents to donate seven of his organs to four different people.

"The thing that I hoped and prayed for is we would have the opportunity someday to meet just one of the recipients so we could see just one good thing come from my son's accident," says Zona Zaragoza.

The Zaragozas have met all four of the recipients.

"My husband likes to say we should thank them for keeping his organs alive."

Tiffany Van Alst was on dialysis for years with kidney failure and calls her son Sam a miracle.

"Because of my transplant, I was able to have him. Without it, he wouldn't be here today," says Tiffany.

All of these athletes will be participating in the Transplant Games beginning July 11th. The games are open to any man, woman or child who has received a life saving organ transplant.

Medals are rewarded in a dozen different sports from track, swimming, cycling to badminton. But these games are not about winning or losing.

"It's a celebration of our health, but also a tribute and gratitude to the donor families that have made it possible," says Anabel Stenzel.

For more information about Team NorCal and the Transplant Games, visit www.teamnorcal.org


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