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VOL. 129 | NO. 135 | Monday, July 14, 2014

Transplant Games Show True Athletic Spirit

By Don Wade

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At the NCAA Tournament every March, it is the cliché of clichés when coaches and players say in a press conference before their first game, “We’re just happy to be here.”

LAWTON

But when members of the Mid-South team competing in the Transplant Games of America July 11-15 in Houston say it, the phrase rings true.

“The whole thing is not about how well we’re doing (in the Games),” said Bryan Lawton, 47, who was to compete in golf, basketball and racquetball. “We’re thankful just to be here. We wouldn’t be here without that second chance at life.”

Lawton, who works for a computer software company in Cordova, was born with cystic fibrosis. He managed the disease well for years, but in his 20s his condition worsened and he had to have a double-lung transplant in 1997.

Erskine Gillespie, 52, had a liver transplant in 1995; he contracted Hepatitis B and he says a drug he was given “killed the rest of my liver.”

Back then, Gillespie admits he didn’t know much about organ donation or transplants.

“You heard patients getting a transplant are always sick and end up dying anyway,” he said. “So save yourself the surgery, save your family the grief, and just go ahead and die.”

Gillespie was clinging to that mind-set as he lived out, in agony, what he believed to be the last days of his life at his home. Then the telephone rang. It was the Mid-South Transplant Foundation asking if he was “ready.”

He thought the caller was asking if he was ready to die. But Gillespie’s doctor had put him on a waiting list for a liver without Gillespie knowing it.

“I said let me call you back,” Gillespie remembered.

He called his sister, a nurse, and she told him like it or not she was coming to get him and take him to the hospital for the transplant.

Today, Gillespie is an advocate. He works as community development coordinator for the Mid-South Transplant Foundation.

“We all have that competitive edge,” said Gillespie, who was to compete in cycling. “But it’s overwhelming to me that 20 years ago I couldn’t get out of bed and here I am at 52 in a race.”

The Transplant Games of America is a multi-sport festival event for people who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. It is open to organ donors, organ transplant recipients, bone marrow recipients, and a limited number of corneal and tissue transplant recipients.

More than 122,000 people in the United States are on waiting lists for organ transplants.

“There’s still a lot of people out there that (need to be educated),” Gillespie said. “They can come out to the Games and see how well we’re doing and that transplant really works.”

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