Kidney recipient finds strength in competition

July 12, 2000|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BEFORE HIS kidney transplant in 1991, David Jenkins couldn't walk up a flight of stairs without feeling short of breath. "I didn't know how bad I felt until I got my new kidney," he said.

Now, Jenkins, 40, says he feels "just as normal as everybody else." In fact, he feels so good that since 1992, just one year after his transplant, he has participated in the U.S. Transplant Games sponsored by The National Kidney Foundation.

This year, the Olympic-style games were held June 20 to 24 in Orlando, Fla., at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. Fifteen athletes from Maryland participated, bringing home 10 medals.

The competition is held every two years and is open to athletes who have received one or more transplanted organs. Events include cycling, running, bowling, softball, volleyball, and Jenkins' games of choice: tennis and table tennis.

Although he didn't win any medals, Jenkins, of Clary's Forest, loves to play. "I've always been a competitor," he said.

Athletes pay their way to the games. Jenkins said it costs about $1,200 for transportation, lodging and uniforms. He raised money by selling pizza kits and soliciting donations from friends. Giant Food, where Jenkins is a cashier, and United Food Workers Local 400 also made contributions toward his expenses.

For Jenkins, the games are about more than competition. "As I've grown, the games have become more about donor awareness for me. I want to show the world how a transplant recipient can lead a normal life after having a transplant," Jenkins said.

He said he feels empowered through his contact with other organ recipients at the games. "Being with other transplant recipients, you become more confident in yourself," he said. "You know people have overcome obstacles that were worse than yours. You live a better life because you know other people's stories."

He said his favorite part of the games is the opening ceremony. "To see the 2,000 transplant recipients march in according to the states they come from touches me," he said.

Jenkins was accompanied on the trip to Orlando by his wife, Lisa, and daughters Monique, 6, and Gabrielle, 8. He said that when he looks at his children, he thinks of the sacrifice made by the parents of the 3-year-old whose kidney he received.

"It takes a lot for a parent to make that decision to donate a child's organs after whatever the circumstances were surrounding the child's death," he said. "Life for me may have ended without that kidney. Instead, my life got better after the transplant because of their decision."

Four years after the transplant, Jenkins' body began to reject his donated organ. He spent a month in the hospital, taking medication to stop the rejection. He credits his "church family" from Columbia Community Church and his wife for their support during his recovery.

"My wife, especially, was there for me," he said. "Some of the drugs you take can cause depression and cause you to be angry for no reason. She's been there through that, and I love her for it."

Jenkins hopes that his participation in the U.S. Transplant Games will raise awareness of the need for organ donation. "We recycle everything, cans, bottles and paper," he said. "Why not our organs? I just feel very blessed to be alive and lead the life that I'm leading now."

"Music Under The Moon"

Howard Community College's Student/Alumni Performing Arts Group will present "Music Under The Moon," the first of two free outdoor concerts, from 7 p.m. to midnight Saturday on the Dreier Stage.

Sue Kramer, a resident of Wilde Lake and producer of student/alumni arts performances at the college, said, "We want to provide a performance forum for local musicians and to provide a free showcase of local talent for the community. We also wanted to create an opportunity for local musicians to meet each other."

Saturday's concert will include performances by rock, folk and pop bands and individuals, including Call Me Lucid, Cybil, El E Phat Productions DJ, Lovestruck Nymphs, Kevin Treine, Doug Alan Wilcox and Wonderbred. Each performer will play a 40-minute set.

Light refreshments will be for sale, local artisans will sell jewelry and hand-crafted items, and a tattoo artist, specializing in henna tattoos, will be available.

The rain date for Saturday's concert is July 22. The final concert in the series is scheduled from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Aug. 12

"We want to encourage the community to bring their own picnic dinner and hang out and enjoy," Kramer said.

Information: 410-772-4515.

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