Saturday, November 3, 2007

Running for a Second Chance

On April 22 , my brother Johnathan's life was saved by a total stranger. On that day, Johnathan received a long-awaited liver transplant at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Had he not received the transplant, it is likely he would not have lived long enough to be present in the pictures shown above.

In commemoration of his transplant, and in order to increase awareness of the need for organs, on October 7th, I teamed up with my brothers Johnathan and David to compete in Southern Adventist University's annual triathlon at Cohutta Springs Camp near Chattanooga.

We had originally planned for each of us to do the whole triathlon, but various events made that impossible. Johnathan's doctor told him to avoid lake water for now, due to the risk of infection which is complicated by the high dose of immunosupressants he must take for the first year. I did not have a nearby pool to train for the swim, and dropped out of training after the first few months, due to that and a very busy schedule. Then David injured his foot, which made running extremely painful for him.

The perfect solution was for us to do the triathlon as a team: David would do the first leg, a half-mile lake swim; Johnathan would follow with the 18-mile bike ride; and I would finish up with the 4-mile run.

As it turned out, David (the ultimate athlete) was allowed to do the swim for our team and then finish the entire triathlon himself, competing both as an individual and as a team.

The day of the triathlon turned out to be a real scorcher, one of those October days that breaks all the records. It was very humid, with a high of 89 degrees, and no clouds in the sky. By the time the triathlon started at 12:45, we were already hot, tired, and sweaty. I found myself envying David, getting to swim in the cool water!

It was honestly hard to consume enough liquid to stay hydrated in that kind of heat. Waiting in the change-off area for my run to start, I kept throwing water over me to cool down. Finally, I spotted Johnathan pedaling up the road with several other bikers, his face flushed and sweaty. We traded the ankle bracelet quickly and I headed off into the shimmering heat on the pavement.

I've been running for years, but that was one of the hardest four miles I've ever done. The black pavement I was running on radiated waves of heat up into my face, and several times I felt dizzy, like I would faint. The course wound its way along country roads, up and down hills, with little shade to protect from the scorching sun. There were water-stations set up every mile, and I always grabbed two cups of water, drinking some and throwing the rest over me to cool off a little.

But finally the end was in sight, and there was my family - mother, brothers, sisters-in-law, husband, nieces and nephews, and my kids - all cheering as I crossed the finish line. Whew! It was over!

The triathlon was a great way to re-connect with my brothers and family, to do something together that we could be proud of. But more than that, it was proof of the incredible healing that someone else's priceless gift gave to my brother. Johnathan had not been able to exercise for years, as his liver, and with it his health, slowly deteriorated.

As teenagers and young adults, my brothers and I just loved backpacking or hiking in the Appalachian mountains around our home. Then, as Johnathan became weaker, there came a time that we had to stop planning that kind of weekend activity. Johnathan just couldn't do it.

With his new liver, though, he was able to regain the strength in his muscles and within just a few months, was biking, swimming and running without difficulty. This opened up all kinds of possibilities for things we could do together, and the first we planned was the triathlon.

So, this triathlon was more than just a triathlon. It was proof of a life re-gained and renewed, a promise of many more challenging, rewarding experiences like this that we will share. As I watched my family just being family - Johnathan playing with his kids down by the lake, his wife cheering as he came in on the bike - I was indescribably grateful for this gift of new life.

The announcer at the triathlon told everyone about our team, and why we were doing the race. Many others asked about our matching T-shirts, encouraging organ donation. We were able to talk to a lot of people about the need for organ donors, sharing Johnathan's story with them. Hopefully, this and other efforts to increase organ donor awareness will make it possible for many others to receive the same gift that saved Johnathan's life. I can tell you firsthand that it is nothing short of a miracle.

1 comment:

Sean Robinson said...

Jenny - what an encouraging experience - we are praying for your family!