Darien man brings home gold, looks to draw more attention to organ donation
Published 1:10 pm, Thursday, July 28, 2011
A local transplant recipient brought home four gold medals after participating in the World Transplant Games in Sweden.
Pete Kenyon made his first trip to the World Transplant Games this year after competing in four competitions held in the United States. He got involved with the transplant games after he suffered two heart attacks within two weeks. After he received a heart from a man who died of a brain aneurism while coaching an ice hockey game, Kenyon wanted to draw attention to the fact people could still live quality lives after receiving a transplant.
Kenyon, who is now 73, said competing in the World Transplant Games was a lot like competing in the U.S. but it was also very different. The competition was held in Goteborg, Sweden, from June 17-24.
"You're doing the same events but you're competing against other countries. There were something like 70 different countries at the games and some countries, like Nepal, only had one person," Kenyon said.
As a member of Team USA, Kenyon competed in the 50, 100, 200 and 400 meter free-style swimming event in the 70 or older bracket.
Competing on the world stage didn't phase Kenyon who won gold in all four events.
"Our swim team had a couple dozen atheletes and there were some swimmers who were really strong," he said. "There was one guy there who had a double-lung transplant and he was going to be competing in the cycling, swimming and running events."
Even though the thrill of competition and being able to take home four gold medals is a highlight for Kenyon, the thing he enjoys most about being able to compete in the transplant games is the opportunity to meet other people.
"When you're sitting in the venue where you're competing you meet people from all different countries. I had a chance to speak to a guy from Iran," Kenyon said.
Another highlight for Kenyon is the donor family recognition ceremony. The ceremony honors the people who had a family member who donated an organ.
"Those ceremonies are always very touching," he said.
Kenyon doesn't deny that he is a competitor and there are few things is loves more than competing, but he said he hopes to draw more attention to the need for people to become organ donors.
"It's one of those things (donating organs) that people don't like to talk about. I think people fear their own mortality," he said. "Even though the games have grown in popularity, there really isn't a lot of publicity."
After Kenyon suffered two heart attacks, he was put on an investigative heart pump to keep him going while he waited for a transplant. During that time Kenyon recalled how difficult it can be mentally for people to cope with the fact they need a transplant.
"I'm a mentor for heart patients who are waiting to get a transplant," he said. "It's all about the mental attitude, because if you can get someone to change their attitude, you can make someone who wasn't going to make it, make it."
Besides his time spent volunteering as a mentor, Kenyon is working on getting people to become organ donors.
One thing he has always found surprising about organ donation is that many times when he is speaking to a group of people he asks how many are organ donors and very few raise their hands. He said people don't always realize that out of all of the people who die each year, only 1 percent of the organs are able to be used.
"When I first got involved with mentoring I remember looking at a list of patients who were waiting for a transplant and the number was something like 70,000," Kenyon said. "Now that number is up to 110,000 and that's just over a 12 year period."
When talking to people about organ donation, Kenyon said he tries to explain to people how they would feel if one of their family members needed an organ.
"A lot of times people think in terms of themselves and you need to get them to think about their families," he said. "Once you get that mindset changed then they see it in a different perspective."