From the Herald-Dispatch In West Virginia:
By DAVID E. MALLOY
HUNTINGTON -- More than 19 years ago, Dell Rachell of Russell, Ky., was given 18 months to live.
"A virus attacked my digestive system," Rachell said Thursday. "I probably picked up something when I was on a USO show overseas. They said I wasn't a good candidate for a transplant. I had lost a lot of weight and had trouble breathing."
At the time she was living in Los Angeles and finally found a doctor to help her and she got on the donor list in 1991. But then her insurance company refused to cover her needed liver transplant. Her company president then got on the phone and threatened to pull his company's health insurance if they didn't cover the transplant. A few days later, the insurance company agreed to cover the cost of the operation at the UCLA Medical Center.
Rachell marks every March 16 as her "Life Day," bringing breakfast to employees at Pathways in Ashland to honor the day she was given a new lease on life.
The family of a 17-year-old teenage boy killed in a school shooting in Tuscon, Ariz., donated his liver to Rachell.
"I've been handed a miracle," she said. His dad said I was the only thing left of his son. They chose to donate life. It's the best thing you can do," Rachell said. "If you want to make your life count, pay it forward."
Next week, Rachell and six other Tri-State area residents will attend the Transplant Games in Pittsburgh where transplant recipients will compete in a number of sporting competitions to honor those who gave their organs to allow people like Rachell a second chance at life.
Rachell, 67, will participate in the 50-meter dash, two swimming events and a 5-K walk. "I'm leaving on Thursday," she said. "I want to be there for the opening ceremonies. I have events scheduled every day."
She is among four members of the Second Chance at Life group in Ashland who will be participating in the games.
Joy Bryant Harris, 59, of Huntington also will be heading to Pittsburgh next week to participate in the games.
"I want to do this just because I can," Harris said. "I want people to know there is life after a transplant. It gives us a good quality of life."
Bryant was suffering from an auto-immune disease several years ago when she ended up getting put on the liver transplant list in 2005. She was only on the list for 23 days when she got a new liver.
"A lot of people die while they're on the list," said Bryant, a member of Tri-State Transplant Support Group. "There are almost 100,000 people on the transplant list. About 18 of them die every day." The group meets at 7 p.m. the first Thursday of the month at the 4th Avenue Methodist Church in Huntington.
She plans to run in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 4-by-100-meter races in Pittsburgh. "They have the games every two years," she said. "It will be neat to meet so many other survivors. We're going there to honor our donors. Everyone should be a donor. Don't take your organs to heaven, heaven knows we need them here."
Max Stull, a retired civil engineer, and David Lockwood, a Huntington lawyer, also will be heading to Pittsburgh. They'll be playing tennis.
While Lockwood received a heart transplant at the University of Kentucky, Stull had a liver transplant at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Stull's sister agreed to give him half of her liver for a transplant, but it didn't go well and he ended up getting another liver from an organ donor.
"I was out of it for eight days," said Stull. "Organ donation is a good thing. Without it, I wouldn't be here right now. Half the people on the transplant list don't make it. There is a critical need for donors."
Patricia Rice of Ashland already has her bags packed for the trip to Pittsburgh.
Along with her suitcase, Rice will be taking her bowling ball to Pittsburgh. "I love to bowl," she said. She and her husband, James, participated in the mixed bowling league at Blue Ribbon Lanes before she got sick.
Rice got a liver transplant at the University of Kentucky in December of 2004. The former Wal-Mart employee didn't have any health insurance, but was covered by her husband's insurance policy.
"I was on the transplant list for six months," she said. "This is not about me, it's about my donor. I have learned how important organ donation is. My whole family has signed up to be donors."
Since her operation, Rice has gotten to hold her two grandchildren. "I wouldn't have had that chance without the transplant," she said.
People can volunteer to be an organ donor by signing up when they renew their driver's license, Harris said. "You also need to inform your family of your wishes," she said.
For more info on this year's North American transplant games visit the following links: U.S. Transplant Games 2008 Pittsburgh July 11-16, 2008. Canadian Transplant Games Windsor, ON Aug 5-10, 2008.
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