ELKHART — “We all like do-overs.”
That’s what Rich Durecki says about his second chance at life, thanks to a double lung transplant.
The procedure — done at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on March 11, 2010 — gave the Elkhartan a chance to enjoy life and to do things like taking part in last weekend’s Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“After the transplant I was told I needed to walk 30 minutes every day to survive,” says Durecki, who had suffered with severe pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs). “I took this seriously and I have been walking 2 miles almost every day. Thanks to someone’s generous gift of life, I am able to walk 2 miles in a little less than 30 minutes. Before my surgery, I was exhausted just walking from the living room to the bedroom.”
Durecki’s condition before the transplant had him No. 2 on the nationwide list for patients with his blood type. While the draftsman at Supreme Corp. in Goshen did suffer through seven bouts of rejection the first eight months after his transplant, he is now enjoying a better quality of life.
Durecki enjoyed playing badminton and table tennis at Grand Rapids, but it was more about focusing the light of awareness on the importance of organ donation and mixing with donors and their families for the 47-year-old.
“It was a an awesome experience to me,” says Durecki. “It brought to me what other people — especially the donor families — experience as well. I don’t know who my donor family is but I, basically, adopted a lot of people this weekend.
“This would not exist without people willing to share their loved one’s organs and give us a second chance at life,” he said.
Cari Durecki, Rich’s wife, was moved.
“It was very inspirational,” said Durecki. “It was nice to see people doing well and enjoying their new life.”
Elkhartan David Jackson, a kidney and pancreas transplant recipient and a veteran of three U.S. Transplant Games (Louisville in 2006, Pittsburgh in 2008 and Madison, Wis., in 2010). won a silver medal in doubles bowling at Grand Rapids.
The 10-year anniversary of Jackson’s transplant was June 14.
“That was a nice milestone to pass,” says Jackson. “I’ve felt good most of the 10 years. I can eat whatever I want.”
Jackson went on kidney dialysis and disability from his job as a purchasing agent at RV manufacturer Sun-Lite in 2001. He noted that the diabetes that made his transplant necessary caused him to have toe amputations on both feet post-transplant.
“Getting a medal is nice,” says Jackson. “Honoring my donor (Greg Lee Jr.) is the main thing.”
Before Jackson became ill, he participated in five Truth Rolloffs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. When he took up bowling again in 2006, he had been away from the sport for a decade.
Jackson estimates he now puts in 300 to 400 games a year, between league and practice at Signature Lanes.
The National Kidney Foundation sponsored the U.S. Transplant Games in even-numbered years from 1990-2010. For economic reasons, the NKF had planned to postpone the 2012 event. That’s when the West Michigan Sports Commission, spurred on by kidney transplant recipient T.J. Maciak, stepped in and ran the first Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids. The WMSC has agreed to continue helping with the event and expects to announce the 2014 location in October.
Durecki and Jackson were two of 25 athletes on Team Indiana. Of that number, eight had received kidney transplants, followed by seven heart, four liver, three lung and one each kidney and pancreas, liver and kidney and multivisceral (three or more abdominal organs all together) recipients.
Team Indiana came home with 33 medals (11 gold, 10 silver and 12 bronze).
Tricia Behringer, team manager for National Kidney Foundation-sponsored Team Indiana, shared some transplant statistics:
An average of 18 people die each day (more than 6,500 per year) waiting for a life-saving transplant.
Last year, almost 29,000 lives in the United States were saved through organ transplants.
However, more than 124,000 people, including more than 1,500 Indiana residents (all but about 300 awaiting new kidneys), are currently waiting for life-saving organ transplants.
Every 10 minutes, another man, woman or child is added to the transplant waiting list.