Why Go To Houston In July?

by Marty & Ken Reynolds

Who would want to leave the cool mountains of North Georgia to spend a hot July week in Houston? Had it not been that our daughter, a kidney transplant recipient, was competing in the Donate Life Transplant Games of America we would have stayed here. But parental love prevailed, and we braved the mid-summer heat in Texas.

In 1982, our eight-year-old daughter, Katie, swam in a meet in Richmond, Virginia. As she got set to dive into the pool, faces turned toward her. We heard voices murmuring, “That’s the little girl who had the kidney transplant this winter!”

Newly transplanted, eight year old Katie at swim practice.

Newly transplanted, eight year old Katie at swim practice in 1982.

We were intent on watching her swim, but the fingers pointing toward her made it clear that many others were following her progress down the pool . She finished her heat to cheers and whistles, and then rewarded her supporters with a big gap-toothed grin. She didn’t come in first, but who’s to say she didn’t win that evening.

On July 12, 2014, we watched Katie dive into another pool as a competitor in the Donate Life Transplant Games of America at Rice University in Houston. This time, only her family and her fellow Georgia teammates singled Katie out. She was just one of many transplant recipients (kidney, double lung, pancreas, heart, liver, cornea – and combinations of those) vying for the gold medal.

Among all those competitors, Katie was only a little unusual in that she has received three transplanted kidneys —her first from her mother, her second from her father and her third from an anonymous individual who chose to help someone else continue to live.

Many of the swimmers displayed inked donor’s names on their backs or shoulders to honor those who had given the gift of life. The women’s suits covered their surgery scars, but the male swimmers proudly displayed their badges of honor.

Swimming was only one of dozens of competitions for all age groups. Most of the athletes were accompanied by family and friends, so there were thousands of people attending the games. We had the wonderful realization that somehow everyone attending was related –Katie as an organ recipient; her parents as donors; Katie’s husband and son as loving and supportive family members, and all the other participants and their supporters had transplantation in common.

Unlike the usual sporting event crowd, every person we encountered was friendly and eager to share what transplantation meant to them —and they were anxious to hear our story.

The opening ceremony, modeled on the Olympic Games, was a remarkable experience. We enjoyed it from the field level. Each state’s team marched in, and then the living donors followed. When we walked into the stadium with hundreds of other living donors, the spectators and athletes rose and cheered. As we walked around the track, people reached out from the stands to touch our hands and say “Thank you” or “God Bless.” They were telling all donors that they deeply appreciate what they have received.

Walking along that track, we joined the smiles and tears of the transplant recipients and their families and friends. But what we really saw was reverence, appreciation and joy directed not at us as individuals, but to everyone who donates the gift of life.

The reception we living donors received paled when the last group entered the stadium —the families of those no longer with us whose gift allowed the competitors in the games to continue living. Many of the families carried posters honoring the loved ones they had lost, but they believe in transplantation and they were celebrating that someone else was continuing to live and was able to compete.

Watching and listening to the athletes (who ranged in age from less than three to well over seventy) and their families, we saw the respect and reverence with which they treat their gifts of life.

Many years ago, when Katie needed a kidney and before the science advanced to where we could be donors, a friend asked how we felt that someone might have to die to receive a life-saving organ. As much as we wanted our daughter to receive a healthy kidney, we had no desire for someone else to lose a loved one.

We recognize, however, that every day people die from innumerable causes. When those people and/or their families choose to use that occasion to donate life to another person, it is a gift beyond measure. Our parents taught us to accept gifts with gratitude. It would be unthinkable to accept the gift of life with less than gratitude and reverence and respect.

The games were competitive, but the spirit was cooperative. More than a competition, the games also were a celebration of thanksgiving for those people who chose to donate so that another might live, and for the families who remembered and honored the wishes of their lost loved one.

How did Katie do? A silver medal in all three of the events she entered!

Web TGA medalists Houston 2014

Katie Reynolds Donley, at left, celebrates winning her first of three silver medals in swimming at the Donate Life Transplant Games of America in Houston, Texas. Katie won silver in the 50, the 200 and the 500 yard freestyle. She competed in the 40 to 50 year old age group. After the games, Katie said she was happy to have won a medal to honor each of her three kidney donors.We are proud of her perseverance, and we are overflowing with gratitude to the anonymous family who in a time of terrible grief made a selfless decision which provided our daughter with a third chance at life. Our family circle expanded to include them from that day on.

We are proud of her perseverance, and we are overflowing with gratitude to the anonymous family who in a time of terrible grief made a selfless decision and provided our daughter with a third chance at life. On that day, our family circle expanded to include them.

Don’t think you are too old to be a donor. Don’t think your life will be diminished if your were to give up a kidney, or a part of your liver or lung or bone marrow. Instead, your life will be enriched.

For more than thirty years since donating Katie’s first kidney, Marty has had normal kidney function and no diet restrictions. Ken was 65 when he donated a kidney, and he has experienced no deterioration of kidney function and has not needed to alter his diet.

Senior Citizens can make an essential difference in someone’s life. Please sign that donor card.

It really was hot in Houston, but we never regretted one degree of the temperature difference.

A previous version of this article was published in the September 2014 edition of Smoke Signals.

Candice Millard writes thrilling and chilling history

by Ken Reynolds

Author Candice Millard earned a place on my book shelves with two fascinating books about American presidents. The first, River of Doubt, is an incredible journey down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River with Theodore Roosevelt. The second, Destiny of the Republic, is a more intricate tale of the brief presidency and early death of James A. Garfield.

Millard’s books read like novels. They are good examples of historical writing that cause readers to say, I wish history had been written like this when I was in school. Continue reading

Playing solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one

by Ken Reynolds

Playing video games makes it easy to accomplish nothing, but playing them is still doing something. I try to resist video games, because time ceases to matter and inevitably I regret wasting it on an unrewarding activity. A few nights ago while I was engrossed in a session of computer solitaire Lew Dewitt and The Statler Brothers popped into my mind.

In the mid to late 1960s Statler was one of the most well-known names around Staunton and Waynesboro, Virginia. Not because a lot of people were named Statler. There may have been none, but it was difficult to find anyone in our part of the Shenandoah Valley who did not claim to be a personal friend of at least one member of the Grammy Award winning Statler Brothers quartet. The claims may have been true. The singers were extraordinarily popular and exceptionally civic minded and reputedly were friendly and outgoing fellows. However, only two of them were brothers and none were named Statler. They chose the name from a tissue box in a hotel room. Continue reading

Thirteen American Arguments

Howard Fineman’s The Thirteen American Arguments

Review by Ken ReynoldsTurned Pages
Do Americans have an innate national need to argue? Howard Fineman, author of The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country, says we do. Fineman contends the founder’s design of our government left it to be refined and improved through an endless series of arguments. He believes voicing our differences sustains our national identity and makes us an ever-renewing nation.

Whether the national design was deliberate, or an inevitable result of the need to meld thirteen separate and disparate governments into one nation, he leaves for academics to debate. Fineman bases his premise on more than thirty years of observing, reporting and commenting on national politics. He says there are issues that, under our form of government, will not be resolved. Continue reading

Something Like a Walk

by Ken Reynolds

 When we moved to these mountains fifteen years ago we were newly retired and we both liked to hike. North Georgia had more trails than I could have walked even if the trail system had not grown longer every year and those same years had not wrought havoc on my ability to go up and down hill. I was a lot younger then. Martha has not aged.

Our dog often accompanied us on short walks and long hikes. But he also has gotten older and the years have taken a toll his ability to cover the distances we once did. Twice each day he demands an opportunity to sniff over what he sniffed over the last time he was outside, so we spend a lot of time in a small area. Whatever I once might have labeled our outings I can no longer call them hikes, or even long walks. I don’t hike anymore and I miss it.

There has been a lot of rain this year. Rainy days, achy knees and stiff fingers remind me how old I really am. Four rainy days in a row made getting out of bed this morning particularly difficult. But beyond our bedroom window sunlight beckoned, so I struggled to get myself upright, went through what Martha calls my pre-amble, then hobbled into the bathroom. Continue reading

No Fiction Pulitzer

The Pulitzer Prize Board did not select a fiction prize winner. Ann Patchett, author and bookstore owner eloquently expresses her disapproval of the board’s non-award. I recommend her April 17 N Y Times Op-Ed “And the Winner Isn’t . . .”

Patchett says, “Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying within the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps.”

The author and Karen Hayes are co-owners of Parnassus Books in Nashville. Together they are demonstrating that physical bookstores are not of the past.

To read Patchett’s full column follow this link http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/opinion/and-the-winner-of-the-pulitzer-isnt.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120418

A Not So Silent Night

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, in Silent Night? Not With Us, extolls the “wall of talk” that characterizes his family’s holiday gatherings. Bruni makes it sound like a beautiful experience, and I feel confident that it is. There was a time when I enjoyed, and could follow the conversations that make up that wall of talk.

But Mr. Bruni, I hope you know the individuals in your family well enough truly to understand how each feels about all that talk. Waiting “for some slack between syllables—for little cracks in the great wall of talk” is nicely written, but it is frightening. Both my parent’s families talked, but rarely over someone else. I remember those times with deep-rooted joy—even my uncles’ arguments about Ford vs. Chevy.

We encouraged our children to talk and to listen. Our dinner table conversations often lasted hours. They are parents now, but each of them has told us how much those talking times mean to them.

My hearing has faded and the only conversations I still understand are one-on-one and small group. Your wall of talk is an impenetrable cacophony. When your family is next to mine in a restaurant I had much rather be somewhere else. You preclude what little enjoyment I might glean from the companions at my own table.

The relatives and friends who make the effort to be certain that I understand why everyone is laughing keep me clawing at that wall. I want to be part of it. Yes, there is great joy in talk, but I hope you know the joy listening can bring. There also is great joy in silence together.