Organ transplant recipients hope to raise awareness


David Butler hopes to return to his Laurel home with a fistful of gold medals next month when he competes in the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games in Atlanta.

The 31-year-old liver transplant recipient also hopes to convince people that they should donate their organs and tissue.

"It's important to show the rest of the population that transplant recipients can recuperate fully and be healthy, active people," said Mr. Butler, who plans to compete in cycling, swimming, and track and field at the games, Aug. 3-7.

Mr. Butler is one of three Howard County residents who will attend the Olympic-style games, in which organ transplant recipients compete in 13 different sports.

The games, which began in 1982, give the recipients a chance to demonstrate the success of their operations and encourage others to donate organs and tissues.

"It's just a wonderful opportunity to get together with other transplant recipients," said Jennifer Morales, director of public education for the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland. "It's a celebration of life and it increases the awareness of the need for donors."

This year, more than 1,200 athletes are expected to attend the games, making it the largest gathering of organ transplant recipients in the event's history.

Columbia residents Brian Hartford and David Jenkins will also compete in the games.

Mr. Hartford, 52, received a new heart in 1990 after suffering three heart attacks, including one the day his wife died of cancer, within two months.

The operation dramatically changed his life, he said.

At one time, he smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, drank heavily, ate voraciously and worked 10-hour days. Since the operation, he has quit smoking, cut down on his drinking and watches his diet. He has remarried and said he has never been in better physical and mental condition.

Mr. Hartford said he plans to publish a book on his experiences, and he speaks on behalf of several organ transplant organizations in the mid-Atlantic region.

Like many transplant recipients, he said he views life differently.

"We care and we stop to listen," he said. "We take time to care about each other."

Mr. Hartford plans to compete in golf, basketball and bowling.

Mr. Jenkins, 34, received a kidney transplant three years ago and plans to compete in doubles tennis, table tennis and basketball.

Although he was born with only one kidney, Mr. Jenkins said he never thought it would fail him. But he was forced to go on dialysis for 13 months before he received a new kidney in 1991.

A basketball enthusiast, Mr. Jenkins still enjoys playing the game but has been careful to avoid rough play since the operation.

"I can't do as much of that because you don't want to jeopardize your kidney," he said.

Mr. Hartford also takes precautions because of his heart. He spends at least 20 minutes warming up before playing sports to give his heart time to adjust to his accelerated pace.

He also takes medication to prevent his body from rejecting the heart. Other than that, he said, he leads a normal life.

"I find it hard to think I'm a transplant [recipient]," he said.

If it weren't for people willing to donate organs and tissue, many people would have died, Mr. Butler said.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, about 33,000 Americans are on a waiting list for an organ transplant.

"I've known a lot of children who have grown to early adulthood and older men who lead prosperous lives," Mr. Butler said. "It's vital for people to donate organs."

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