Walking miracles abound

ALLENDALE — Chink. Chink. Chink.

Chris Spieth walked down a sidewalk with three gold medals clanging together at his chest. His singlet dipped down, revealing a pink scar down the middle of his chest.

Spieth, a 16-year-old from Sheboygan, Wis., received a heart transplant on June 8, 2010.

“I feel amazing,” Spieth said Monday after winning the 100, 200 and long jump at the 2012 Transplant Games of America at Grand Valley State University.

Anne Spieth, his mom, smiled hard, looking around. “Everywhere you look,” she said, “there are walking miracles.”

More than 1,000 athletes from 40 states are in the Grand Rapids area for this event, which features donors and recipients competing in a range of sports, including basketball, cycling, bowling, golf, swimming, tennis and volleyball.

If the Olympic Games are about bringing the world together in the spirit of peace and competition, then this was something even more powerful. This was a celebration of life and generosity and trying to win a gold medal to honor somebody else.

3-kidney, 1-heart relay team

This was my favorite moment. One single race.

“Runners, take your mark!” the starter said.

Dan Foss crouched at the starting line before the 400-meter relay.


Foss, 48, of Ann Arbor received a new kidney in 2003. He was running to honor his donor. “I got my kidney from a second cousin, who I hadn’t seen in 25 years,” Foss said. “I want her to know I’m taking care of her kidney.”

And then the gun fired to start the race. Foss ran 100 meters and handed the baton to Jim Ogg, 66, of Clare. Ogg got his new heart in 2008. “I don’t know my donor,” Ogg said. “I’m doing this to show that we can live a normal life and to promote organ donation.”

Ogg gave the baton to Paul Zelmanski, 52, of Macomb. Zelmanski got his kidney from his brother 21 years ago today. “From that point on, I vowed to stay in shape,” Zelmanski said.

Zelmanski gave the baton to Ernie May, 62, of Allendale, a kidney recipient.

Up in the stands, Debra Piotrowski wiped tears from her eyes. It was her kidney that saved her brother’s life.

“It was awesome,” she said, dabbing more tears. “I’m so happy for him.”

‘A new tenant in my body’

More than 100,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant, according to Donate America.

Howard Dell was on that list for two years. He nearly died waiting for a new liver and went bankrupt.

Dell, a former wide receiver who had stints in the CFL and NFL, received a liver on Nov. 17, 2009. “I feel like Benjamin Button,” he said. “I feel incredible.”

Now, Dell is 50 years old. He’s ridiculously fit and ripped with muscles. He dominated this competition, winning his age group in the 100, 200, discus, shot put, ball throw and doubles bowling. “I got a new tenant in my body,” Dell said, “and I have to make sure the building is structurally sound.”

Everywhere you turned, there were heartwarming stories of hope.

Allison Herr, an adorable 9-year-old girl from Metamora, Ohio, stood at the victory tent, smiling and posing for pictures with a medal around her neck. She nearly died waiting for a liver transplant — and yes, that was a recurring theme at this competition. These athletes were the lucky ones.

Herr won the 25-meter swim, long jump and softball throw. “It’s amazing to see her alive,” said her mom, Jenny Herr. “Everything she does is a huge milestone for us.”

She paused: “I want everybody to get out there and be an organ donor. The lives you can change — there are no words to describe it. Thank you is not enough for those donor families. They are truly and deeply appreciated in our hearts forever.”


Posted by Tribune News Services

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