Celebrating the gift of life, Transplant Games of America bring together donors, recipients and their families

Gold medal winner, kidney recipient and former Northwest Kidney Centers patient Cathy Guy explains what the Transplant Games of America are all about and why they mean so much

Last summer, Cathy Guy won two gold medals in golf at the 2022 Transplant Games of America, the second such Games she has competed in.

For Cathy, thecompetition is secondary, and winning is a fun highlight. The best and most amazing part for her was being part of a celebration with a community who have all been touched by organ, eye or tissue donations.

Cathy on the course in San Diego

“It’s truly a great event that more people should attend,” she says. “It’s so encouraging and supporting. I love hearing all the stories!”

The bi-annual Transplant Games were established to honor the lasting legacy of donors who gave the ultimate gift of life, celebrate

the success of transplantation, and increase the national and state donor registry numbers. Recipients, living donors, donor families, individuals awaiting transplantation, caregivers, medical professionals, as well as workers from recovery agencies, transplant centers and other related organizations all come together to celebrate the gift of life and to highlight the need for and importance of organ donation.

The most recent Games featured more than 40 teams of transplant recipients and living donors competing in 20 athletic events like swimming, biking, track and field and badminton. There are also less active events like poetry, cornhole, singing, poker and trivia. In addition, more than 60 special events are held throughout the Games to give attendees the opportunity to engage with one another and share stories.

A call from an old college friend (and fellow kidney recipient) motivated Cathy to compete in the 2010 games, which were held in Madison, Wisc. Though her athletic experience had been in track in college, she opted to compete in golf, a game her father had taught her as a young adult. She surprised herself and won a gold medal! Since then, she has encouraged others to attend the Transplant Games. The inherent support she felt made for a powerful experience.

Kidney problems related to Lupus

Cathy grew up in the Black Hills area of South Dakota. She graduated from Montana State University with a degree in education and student taught in Ireland. Upon her return to the United States, Cathy became very sick during her first year of teaching. Doctors quickly diagnosed her with Systemic Lupus and explained it had begun to cause severe kidney problems.

When Cathy moved to Seattle in 1989, she started a new teaching job and did her best to manage her health. In 1995 dialysis became necessary. Cathy first became involved with Northwest Kidney Centers at that point and began training for peritoneal dialysis (PD), a type of home dialysis.

She has been a supporter and volunteer of Northwest Kidney Centers ever since – driving patients to dialysis appointments, training individuals on computers, helping with fundraising, and staffing the organization’s information booth at festivals and health fairs.

Cathy with her golf partners

Her world changed for the better in 1998 when she received a kidney from her older brother, Dave. His donation was profound for Cathy, and not only because she felt so much better physically. She says Dave “saved her life” with his gift and made it possible for her and husband, Tim, to add to their family. A few years after she received her kidney, Cathy and Tim became parents to a baby boy, James.

A strong advocate for organ donation, she believes one of the benefits that doesn’t get talked about enough is just how much better a person can feel after a transplant. “Don’t be afraid to go for a transplant,” she says to others who are interested. “Don’t be afraid to tell people that you need a kidney to have a better life.”

A second transplant

Over time, Cathy’s first transplanted kidney lost some capacity which required her to go back on peritoneal dialysis in 2014. She remembered the sadness and hopelessness she felt at that point. “I felt like I’d lost my one shot,” she says.

In 2015 Cathy’s situation changed again when her dear friend of 30 years, Shannon, gave her a kidney that is still working today. Cathy is also happy to share that the therapies of today are much better and don’t cause harm the way past treatments once did.

When 2022 rolled around, Cathy and Shannon decided to head to San Diego for the next Transplant Games. Both came home with new medals! Shannon won two silver medals in swimming, andCathy won gold medals in individual and team golf.

From left, kidney donor Shannon and Cathy

In the spirit of the Games, Cathy was thrilled to present a gold medal to her father and subsequently to her brother, while keeping one for herself. Cathy and Shannon are considering competing in a future Transplant Games, where a cliché like “everyone is a winner” takes on real meaning.

Patients of Northwest Kidney Centers receive transplants at a rate higher than the national average. Learn more about transplants at www.nwkidney.org/living-with-kidney-disease/transplant/