Transplant games a celebration of life

June 30, 1992|By Eric Sandstrom | Eric Sandstrom,Knight Ridder News Service

News that Ohio attorney Marc Wolff is headed to Los Angeles next month to compete in the 1991 U.S. Transplant Games may come as a surprise to several men sitting on death row in Lucasville, Ohio.

That's right, gang. That bespectacled, academic lawyer is entered in the 1,500-meter race walk, the softball throw, basketball, badminton and the 50-meter freestyle swim.

Two of his teammates from the Dayton, Ohio area are Jonathan Tell and Mike Sturm.

"I'm not a very good athlete," Mr. Wolff says.

But he's a pretty fair attorney.

The assistant Summit County prosecutor successfully represented the state of Ohio in a number of appeals by convicted murderers. In fact, Mr. Wolff once looked at life much the same way as those men at the Southern Correctional Facility of Ohio. He knew his days were numbered.

In June 1980, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic told Mr. Wolff he had sclerosing cholangitis, a rare, incurable liver disease. He suffered jaundice, fatigue, loss of appetite and itching so severe that his legs had to be wrapped to protect them. His life expectancy was said to be 10 years.

Ten years later, Mr. Wolff got a new liver. The 32-year-old man who donated his liver to Mr. Wolff died of a gunshot wound to the head. Mr. Wolff, 40, now celebrates April 18, 1990, as a second birthday.

"My transplant has meant a second chance at life for me," says Mr. Wolff, who also has a private practice in Akron. "Without this transplant I surely would be dead."

Mr. Wolff is one of about 50 Team Ohio members traveling to Los Angeles for the Transplant Games on July 16-19. They range in age from 6 to 65. Mr. Wolff's wife, Ethel, is head of the Northeast Ohio American Liver Foundation, a support group for transplant recipients and their families.

As someone looking at a death sentence a few years ago, Mr. Wolff views his participation in the transplant games as an achievement. He'll be one of more than 1,000 athletes competing against each other. All underwent transplant surgery.

Most have new kidneys.

Two of them are Jonathan Tell, 36, of Mogadore, Ohio, and Mike Sturm, 39 of Akron.

Mr. Tell was diagnosed with diabetes at age 9. His conditioned worsened in adulthood. He survived on renal dialysis for two years before undergoing a kidney transplant on Oct. 25, 1990.

Mr. Tell's plans are less certain than Mr. Wolff's. Though anxious to compete in the transplant games, Mr. Tell recently developed a complication with his new kidney. It may keep him from joining his team in L.A.

"If there's something wrong, I'll have to have surgery," says Mr. Tell, a Walsh College nursing student.

Mr. Tell's story illustrates the vulnerable position many organ transplant recipients find themselves in. The chance of rejection or infection is always there. But they learn to adjust.

Mr. Sturm developed a rare kidney disease as a teen and had a transplant 10 years ago. His body rejected the organ. Six months later, July 13, 1982, Mr. Sturm received a second kidney that is still working fine.

Mr. Sturm will bowl and play golf at the games.

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