Four Brainerd area residents personally affected by organ transplantation are traveling to the Twin Cities this week to participate in the 2004 U.S. Transplant Games.
Kathy Bahma, Jeana Wetzel and Lynne Beaver, all of Brainerd, are members of Team Upper Midwest, a group of about 89 athletes from Minnesota, North and South Dakota who plan to participate in the event, which starts Wednesday.
Lynne Beaver (left), Kathy Bahma, Joe Rezac and Jeana Wetzel plan to participant in the 2004 U.S. Transplant Games Wednesday through Sunday in the Twin Cities. Beaver and Wetzel, both of Brainerd, have undergone liver transplants while Bahma, Brainerd, had a heart transplant. Rezac, Baxter, is head starter of the track and field events. He donated a kidney to his father in 1972. Brainerd Dispatch/Jodie Tweed
More than 2,000 athletes from throughout the United States who have had organ transplants or allogenic bone marrow transplants will participate in Olympic-style competitions in 12 sports and 41 events at the University of Minnesota and other Twin Cities sites. Athletes range in age from 18 months to 80 years. There are no age limits for the competition.
Bahma had a heart transplant in 1996 while Wetzel and Beaver underwent liver transplants; Wetzel in 1995 and Beaver in 1991.
Joe Rezac, who was a track coach for more than 30 years at Brainerd High School and a longtime certified state track and field official, was asked to be the head starter for all the track and field events at the games. Rezac, Baxter, donated a kidney to his father back in 1972 when he was 29, an operation that gave his father 11 more years of life. His father at first refused to allow his son to donate his kidney.
"I told my dad, 'You've been telling me what to do all my life and I'm going to make this decision and you're going to live,'" said Rezac.
About the competition
The U.S. Transplant Olympic Games are a four-day athletic competition organized by the National Kidney Foundation.
The games consist of 12 sports and 41 events for organ transplant recipients.
Opening ceremonies will be 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. This event is free and open to the public.
For more information or a schedule of events, go to the Web site, www.transplantgames.org.
This is Beaver's 11th year as a participant in the Transplant Olympics. She bowls and race walks in the 1500-meter and the 3-kilometer track and field events. She has competed at the international transplant games in England, Canada, Australia, Hungary, France and Japan. The U.S. Transplant Games are held every two years opposite of the international games for transplant recipients. Next year's international transplant games will be in Canada.
Beaver has received three gold, four silver and three bronze medals in the transplant games.
This is the first time Bahma, Wetzel and Rezac have participated in the competition.
Wetzel, Bahma and the late Vicki Peterson started the organ transplant support group in Brainerd in 1997. The transplant games, Bahma said, is a way to bring about increased awareness of the importance of organ donation.
"My hope would be that this will show people you can be a donor and lead a normal life as I have since 1972, with modifications," said Rezac. "I also hope to honor my father whom I donated a kidney to."
Wetzel said she plans to volunteer in the Olympic Village at the University of Minnesota, where most of the events will take place. She said she is looking forward to meeting other transplant recipients and hearing their stories, as well as helping out and watching the events.
Bahma is planning to compete in golf and volunteer as well.
"I'm so excited," said Bahma. "I almost don't need to compete because I'm scared to death."
When she was a nurse at St. Joseph's Medical Center, Bahma cared for Sue Huff of Baxter after she received her life-saving heart transplant 26 years ago, becoming the first heart transplant recipient in Minnesota. She said she remembers feeling amazed that such a transplant could take place, not knowing years later she would need a heart transplant herself.
The transplant games also will recognize and celebrate 2004 as the 50th anniversary of organ transplantation.
While the competitive event is for transplant recipients, there are events, like the 5K Race for Organ and Tissue Donation Awareness on Saturday, that are open for non-athletes. More information can be found at www.transplantgames.org.
JODIE TWEED can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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