From NV Daily in Virginia:
By Carolyn Keister Baker
Don Appiarius, of Stephens City, wins battle after battle, and his latest triumph was no small feat.
Nearly five years after undergoing a double lung transplant that saved his life from the end stages of cystic fibrosis, Appiarius remains healthy and robust, playing tennis in the U.S. Transplant Games held in Pittsburgh last week.
Appiarius, 42, director of residence life at Shenandoah University in Winchester, was one of 35 transplant recipients representing Virginia who competed in the games July 11-16.
Not only did he compete but Appiarius came home, donning a silver medal he won in the men's singles competition in his age category. He also placed fourth with his partner, Eunice Kulesza of Midlothian, in mixed doubles. Kulesza is a liver transplant recipient.
"The whole week was wonderful," Appiarius says. "I was very happy."
Appiarius' remarkable story begins when he was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was 5. Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system and usually kills people in childhood or in early adulthood, according to a Web site of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and a press release from NetLife Health, a nonprofit agency that coordinates organ and tissue donation in Virginia.
Doctors were candid with his parents, Appiarius says. "Enjoy the next four years. He probably won't make it past 8," they told them.
Even with the grim prognosis, Appiarius never lost his zest for life.
"Most people, unless their spirit is broken, will choose to fight," Appiarius says.
And fight he did.
Appiarius grew up on a farm, where his family raised horses. "My family rode competitively," he says.
"I had this epiphany. Riding was great exercise for the horse but not much for me," Appiarius added.
So early in life, Appiarius made a conscious decision to get involved in athletics as a way to build his immune system.
"The healthiest people on the face of the earth are not doctors and nurses. They are athletes," Appiarius remembers thinking. "I figured that a logical approach to take was to be athletic. As it turns out, being athletic built me up to be an athlete."
When he was about 12 years old, Appiarius took up soccer and tennis at camp. "I really fell in love with tennis," he says. Appiarius eventually played tennis competitively, playing in high school and at his alma mater, Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.
Even though Appiarius continued to fight, his health eventually declined as the years passed. He found himself in the hospital at least once a year and suffered through painful operations annually to suction fluids from his lungs.
By 2001, Appiarius was not functioning well, and a year later, he needed to be on oxygen around the clock. He became so weak that ascending a few steps was life threatening, he says.
Then on Nov. 20, 2003, waiting less than a year, Appiarius received his double lung transplant and a second chance at life.
Not surprising, Appiarius continued to fight, making incredible gains after surgery. His tubes were removed hours after surgery. While most people could expect to spend up to a month in intensive care, Appiarius needed only a couple of days, he says.
Remarkably, Appiarius was back to work in two months and back on the tennis court in just over three months.
"It was quite honestly one of the most incredible feelings," Appiarius recalled.
For the first months after his operation when so many simple pleasures returned to him, Appiarius says he was "like a child in wonder."
When he was able to walk effortlessly up a flight of stairs for the first time three weeks after surgery, he and his wife, Vivian, were overcome with emotion.
"I just glided up the stairs," Appiarius says. The two looked at each other and cried.
Appiarius is among the lucky, having received a transplant while so many die waiting. An average of three people in Virginia die each week waiting to receive an organ transplant that doesn't come in time, according to a press release from LifeNet Health.
More than 2,500 people across the state are waiting for organ transplants, according to the release. Seventy-nine people are specifically waiting for lung transplants, says Dena Reynolds, media relations manager for LifeNet Health.
Held every two years, the U.S. Transplant Games is the largest assemblage of transplant recipients in the world.
Appiarius' most memorable moments during the event were hearing the stories.
"Every time we took a break [during the tennis tournament] and sat on the chairs to cool down, we inquired what brought the other person here," Appiarius says. "It was so miraculous to hear so many stories. It almost became surreal."
Having beaten the odds so many times, Appiarius meets few people with similar experiences in his daily routine.
"There is not a lot of people that really understand and appreciate the struggles," Appiarius says. "The moment you speak to someone with a like history, you can finish someone else sentences. [At the games,] it was happening moment by moment every day."
Appiarius plans "to defend his title and battle for gold in 2010" when the games will be held in Madison, Wis.
People wanting more information or who are interested in signing up to be an organ or tissue donor in Virginia, may visit the state Department of Motor Vehicles or the Web site.
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