My mom encouraged me to start, and this is my first games without her. She died last year, and we donated her tissue. Now, I’m representing recipients and donor families.
Most kids heal quickly, but not me. I broke my leg when I was 2 years old, and itdidn’t heal for months. I needed a tiny little walker just to toddle around.
That was just one blow in a short life filled with medical problems. I was born with a failing liver that affected every part of my body, including bone formation. The only solution was a liver transplant; I can only imagine how difficult it was for my mom and dad, sitting by the phone, waiting for the call to say it was my turn. They worried I would die before I turned 4.
We finally got the call, and I did get a transplant. I only know two things about my donor: The child was my age, and my donor’s parents — who experienced a loss that no one should ever have to endure — said yes to organ donation. On the worst day of their lives, they made the selfless decision that saved mine.
Thirty years later, I have been thinking of them, and my little walker, as I practice for the 2022 Transplant Games of America, which begin on Friday. Organ transplant recipients and living donors will compete in 20 Olympics-style events in San Diego. I’m part of Gift of Life Donor Program’s Team Philly, which will proudly represent our region at the games. I am gearing up to compete in basketball, track and field, and bowling. It’s the first year back since 2018, as the 2020 games were canceled due to COVID-19.
The Transplant Games are a major part of how I think about donation and the role it plays in my life. In 1996, my mom started taking me to the games with a group from St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, seeing it as a chance for me to make friends with other young transplant recipients. There is nothing more magical than seeing everyone together on opening night, cheering, laughing, and crying, knowing we are here because of the selfless generosity of another human being.
Rafiah Cheeks is a sanitation worker for the Philadelphia Streets Department. He lives in Mount Airy.
July 27, 2022