Between Aug 2–7, 2018, an estimated 8,000 organ and tissue recipients, living donors, donor family members and supporters gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah for the 2018 Transplant Games of America. Forty one teams came from the U.S. and two international teams came from Australia and Brazil. The Transplant Games is an Olympic-style competition and celebration of life that takes place every two years to bring together the transplant community and raise awareness about the need for organ and tissue donation.
“The best part of the Games is hearing all of the stories,” said Laura Smith, who managed the team along with fellow double lung recipient Jess Newport. “Almost everyone there has some incredible experience they’ve lived through—and they’ve come out on the other side!” Laura participated in team trivia, volleyball, the 5k race and poker, for which she won a gold medal for her age group. Jess particiapted in the 20k cycling event, winning a bronze medal for her age group, team trivia and volleyball.
Darryl Ellis, a liver and kidney recipient, had some difficult years going through two transplant surgeries, a liver in 2015 and a kidney the following year. He is now heathly and making the most out of life. He’s happy he found out about the Games, joined the NC team and was able to go to Salt Lake City. (Read more about Darryl Ellis.)
“These were my people,” Ellis says with a grin, “It was seven days of pure, uninterrupted bliss. The people were incredible.” Ellis participated in track events, various workshops and was part of the silver medal men’s basketball team!
Highlights from the Games
North Carolina’s state team had 17 competitors plus their supporters at the Games, up from 11 athletes who attended the 2016 Games in Cleveland, Ohio. Here are some of the team highlights:
- NCTA first ever men’s basketball won a silver medal after three hard-fought games that lasted long into the night. The team consisted of two double lung recipients, three heart recipients, and two liver and kidney recipients.
- The 2018 Games was the first Transplant Games for 11 athletes.
- Liver recipient Yvette Matthews and kidney recipient Jim Gill tied for the most medals on the team with an impressive six medals each! Matthews won 4 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze in track and field/biking events and Gill won 4 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze in swimming events. Way to go!!
- Anthony Vance, a kidney recipient, continued his dominance in the men’s virtual triathlon winning gold overall for the second time.
- Heart recipients and good friends Art Townsend and Kerry Watts won gold in the up-and-coming sport of pickleball doubles.
- The team received a total of 32 medals. Competitors included recipients of lungs, hearts, kidneys, a liver, two liver and kidney recipients and one living kidney donor.
- Team athletes live across the state from Greenville to the mountains and in between. There were also a few from out of state who chose to compete with NCTA.
- The team’s youngest athlete, Omar Hashem, developed post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD) and made it to the Games only two weeks after finishing his final chemotherapy treatment. What an inspiration!
Guinness Book of World Records—Record Broken
An unexpected surprise at the Transplant Games was a challenge put on by the Guinness Book of World Records to have the most organ recipients convene together. The new record was set at 540.
2020 Games will be in Meadowlands, NJ, July 17–22
The NC team is already looking forward to the next Transplant Games, which will be held in Meadowlands, NJ, July 17-22 in 2020. They hope to have an even bigger team to travel to the Garden State in two years. If you are interested in being a part of the team, volunteering or donating, or if you are a donor family member who would like to share your story or connect with us, please email or visit. Meetings are fun and are open to anyone. Follow us on social media for facts, tidbits, sharing, events and volunteer opportunities.
Thank you, sponsors!!
NCTA would like to thank the sponsors who made all these memories possible: Veloxis Pharmaceuticals, Donate Life, Carolina Donor Service, LifeShare of the Carolinas, Vidant Health, Duke University Hospital, University of North Carolina Hospital, Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, Carolinas Medical Center and Southern Veterinary Partners/Wilkinson Animal Hospital, private donors — as well as a very special anonymous donor who helped ensure that our most financially needy athletes could attend the Games. Thank you!!
Team managers Laura Smith and Jess Newport
We’d love for you to be on the team!
Between Aug 2–7, 2018, an estimated 8,000 organ and tissue recipients, living donors, donor family members and supporters gathered in Salt Lake City.