Area residents reflect on Transplant Games, life as organ recipientsWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Yaneek Smith, Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
Those who are fortunate enough to be in good health often take life for granted. For Northwest Ohioans Allison Herr and Tonya Gomez, that is not the case.
Herr, a 9-year-old living in Metamora, was born with biliary atresia and was on the transplant list for a liver by the age of 1. After waiting almost two years — and nearly losing the youngest of their three children —the Herr family got a call in 2006 notifying them a match had been found.
“We got a call after being on the waiting list for one year and nine months,” Allison’s mother, Jenny Herr, told Toledo Free Press. “She got the new liver, had some minor ups and downs the first year, but today she’s completely healthy and active. She’s your typical 9-year old.”
Although thrilled her daughter is now thriving, Jenny said it’s difficult to know the organ donor who gave Allison a liver — and the gift of life —had to die.
“It’s hard to put into words. We’re celebrating life, but there’s suffering on the other end of it,” Jenny said. “What are the right words? When you talk to a donor, the donor families are so grateful to see us. [But] it’s hard to accept that, when you know deep down, our donor family, the first thing they think would have to be, ‘What would my child be doing now?’ Those feelings stay with you.”
In July, Allison competed in the inaugural Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Mich., winning three gold medals (swimming, long jump and softball throw) and three silver medals (50-meter dash and two relay races). The games feature organ recipients as well as living donors competing in Olympic-style events.
“It is hard to describe the emotional feeling you get from seeing your daughter, who basically cheated death, competing,” Jenny said. “We’ve met donor families and have gone through the grieving process and it comes full circle. Because of these people, we have people who are able to live life because they chose to donate [their organs].”
Tonya Gomez, a 40-year-old dietician who lives in Archbold with her husband, Mario, and their son, Eric, also competed in the Transplant Games, winning silver medals in badminton and basketball and a bronze medal in table tennis.
Born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects mainly the lungs but also the pancreas, liver and intestine, Gomez was put on the waiting list for lungs when she was 30.
“It got to a point where, over the years, I would get infections and it would scar your lungs and you start losing function little by little,” Gomez said. “For a long time, I would sleep with oxygen just to give myself more energy. It got to the point where I had to be with oxygen 24/7 before my transplant.”
Her health suffered further after the birth of her son.
“I had my son in 2001 and I think after that, my health wasn’t superb,” said Gomez, who named her son after her brother who died of cystic fibrosis in 1981 at 6.
“[The doctors] told me I would probably have to wait two years because I was so petite that I would need a child’s lungs [for the transplant],” Gomez said. “My lung capacity was at 19 percent when I had my transplant.”
After a year and a half of waiting, Gomez received two lungs.
“The lungs fit perfectly and [the doctors said] it was easy getting my old lungs out,” Gomez said. “About a week and a half after my transplant, I had a little bit of a reaction, but I haven’t had any problems since then.”
Like Jenny, Gomez also struggles with knowing her life-saving lungs came from someone else’s death.
“The hardest part was knowing that I got my lungs from a 10-year-old boy,” Gomez said. “It hit my husband and I hard. We cried for a long time. It’s tough because my son, Eric, is 10 and that’s how old Adam was when he died. It was very tough thinking about that.”
Gomez met her donor’s family in 2005.
“That was a really emotional time,” Gomez said. “Adam was their only son. They have two daughters. They were awesome. I am grateful to them. Saying thank you isn’t enough. I remember the first time we met and the first time we had to say goodbye. It’s really hard. A part of Adam is inside me and when I am leaving [his mother], it’s always tough. I think they see the good that can come out of something that is so devastating, that you can do something like [donate an organ] and leave a legacy like that.”
For more information, visit www.lifeconnectionofohio.org or go to www.transplantgamesofamerica.org.