GAMBIER — Jonathan Cope is 46 going on 13; 58-year-old Nick Carson celebrated his sixth birthday on May 1. Nancy Hrivnak, a 54-year-old newspaper editor, will soon celebrate her 16th birthday.
The three were among more than 100 transplant recipients and family members who gathered this weekend for the 2009 Buckeye Transplant Games held in Knox County. They’re celebrating life — and their second chance at it.
Cope, of Jacksonville Beach, Fla., received a double-lung transplant Oct. 31, 1996, following a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis.
“I got my lungs from a 12-year-old boy,” he said.” I never heard the story of what happened to the boy.”
Several years later, however, his job took him back to the Birmingham hospital where he had his transplant surgery, and he met the man who received the heart of the 12-year-old boy.
Cope, who competed in tennis and swimming events, said life expectancy after a double-lung transplant is five years; thus far, he’s beaten the odds. He has had a few setbacks since his transplant, but no major complications.
Active all of his life, Cope said the transplant gave him new life.
“I fell in love and got married after my transplant, I’ve gone to college, I’m working in a hospital doing computer networking,” he said.
Unfortunately, his wife, who had a lung transplant in August 2001, died in December 2001 from pneumonia.
Hrivnak was a freshman at The Ohio State University in 1972 when she was diagnosed with end-stage liver disease due to autoimmune disease.
“They told my parents I would not live a year,” she said. “In 1986, they put me in a wheelchair and on oxygen, and said I’d spend the rest of my life flat on my back and that I was too ill for a transplant.”
In October 1993, Hrivnak said, a 30-year-old woman died in an auto accident, leaving a husband and two children; she received the woman’s liver. Hrivnak said she has been in touch with the daughter.
“She told me that on the way to the hospital, her dad asked if they should donate her mom’s organs,” said Hrivnak. “She said, ‘Yes.’”
Now, she exercises at her local YMCA in Chesterland, and speaks to groups about organ donation.
“It’s really important to make people aware,” she said.
Hrivnak was a silver medalist in the triathlon in the 2008 U.S. Transplant Games held in Pittsburgh, Pa. She was planning to compete in the race walk during the Buckeye Games.
Carson describes himself as a May Day baby, having received a double-kidney transplant on May 1, 2003. His, too, was a cadaver donor.
“I’ve had no complications at all, no problems,” he said. “Other parts of my body are failing, but my kidneys are going strong.”
Carson trained for the 2004 U.S. Games held in Minneapolis, Minn., and came away with a gold medal in the butterfly. He made Team USA in 2005, and competed in the international games held in Australia. He won six gold medals in swimming and three bronze in cycling. Now he is helping other transplant recipients have a chance to compete in the games through his foundation.
“It’s the Transplant Athletic Foundation Inc.,” he said. “It’s something I set up for transplant recipients to attend events like this.
“We’re a family, a transplant family,” he continued. “All of the people here are on the same medicines, have the same story.”
The games, he said, gives them a chance to talk about their experiences, to know they’re not the only one facing the challenges of living life after a transplant. And it doesn’t matter how they fare in the competition.
“You come in last, you celebrate,” he said. “You’re alive.”
Carson said the philosophy behind organ donation is simple, and is reflected in the saying, “To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”
“It’s all about donating organs,” he said. “Donate life.
“Somebody was compassionate enough to put on their driver’s license to donate organs. My two girls would not have had a father without my transplant.”
Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis opened Saturday’s activities by reading a proclamation from the City of Mount Vernon. Mavis is familiar with organ donation, having donated a kidney 22 years ago to his daughter.
“It was good for 19 years,” he said. “Three years ago her kidney failed, and a co-worker donated a kidney to her.”
The co-worker was an even better match for his daughter than he was, said Mavis, adding that he and his wife have a real connection with transplant recipients.