Donate Life Transplant Games Bringing Volunteers, Athletes To Salt Lake City
Jul 26, 2018, 6:07 PM | Updated: 9:37 pm
SALT LAKE CITY – Twenty people die every day in the United States waiting for an organ transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Yet thousands more receive the gift of life and get the transplant they desperately need.
Next week, thousands of organ donors and recipients will converge on Salt Lake City for the 2018 Donate Life Transplant Games. For the athletes and their families, it’s about celebrating recovery and spreading awareness.
Organizers are still looking for hundreds of volunteers.
Dax Francis found out he had kidney disease when he was 12 and had a kidney transplant at age 20. Now, six years later, he’s tuning up his golf game for the Transplant Games.
“It’s definitely been a recuperating tool,” Francis said of his golf game. “A way to get out and clear my head.”
That was especially true while Francis recovered from a kidney transplant. He’s been through a real battle with poor health most of his life because of kidney disease.
“It’s really a great way for me to be more involved with life,” Francis said.
He started playing with his father at age two. Today, golf keeps him active with his family. When he first read about the Transplant Games coming to Salt Lake City, he was thrilled.
“This is just awesome!” he said. “It’s a way for me to be normal, you could say, a way to interact with the community that I’ve been involved with for so long.”
Francis said he’s honored to play in the Transplant Games and help raise awareness for organ donation. Too often in life he’s felt as though he had to pass up on many fun activities with his friends.
“You feel left out and just feel like life goes on without you,” he said.
That’s not the case during the 2018 Donate Life Transplant Games in Salt Lake City, though.
On Aug. 2-7, organ recipients, donors, and their families will gather for events ranging from swimming and cycling to bowling and ballroom dancing.
“It’s not about competing. It’s really a celebration of life and trying to get back to some normalcy of life,” said Dr. Donald Morris, an Intermountain Medical Center Kidney Transplant Nephrologist.
The Games will help highlighting the importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation throughout the community.
“We really encourage them to be active and try to live a very normal life,” Dr. Morris said of his patients.
Today, there are about 120,000 people in the U.S. waiting for an organ transplant, according to UNOS. About 100,000 of those are waiting for a new kidney. Here in Utah alone, there are 525 on the waiting list for a kidney, and the average wait time is three to seven years depending on blood type and other health factors.
“It gives you a good goal to look forward to: to get back to good health because you’ve been given a gift of life,” said Jerold Wilcox, a kidney recipient and cyclist.
Wilcox is also the organ transplant coordinator at Intermountain Medical Center. Since he received his kidney less than a year ago, he’s not eligible to compete. Instead, he’ll volunteer this year.
“I want to help those who have gone through the transplant to have a smooth transition, and make sure their experience is positive,” he said.
Around 6,000 athletes and supporters will attend, bringing an estimated $8-10 million in economic impact to Utah. The best way to get a front row seat for more than 20 different sporting events at venues around Salt Lake City is to volunteer.
Volunteers can sign up at transplantgamesofamerica.org.
The six-day event is produced by the Transplant Games of America and hosted by the Utah Sports Commission, Intermountain Donor Services, the University of Utah Solid Organ Transplant Program, and Visit Salt Lake.
Francis said he is eager to get out on the golf course with other organ transplant recipients and donors to enjoy the camaraderie and the competition.
“You all know the fight that you put in every day for life,” he said. “It’s really great to come together and see everyone that is in the community that you’re part of.”