Kentuckians prepare to compete in ‘Transplant Games’

The 2022 Donate Life Transplant Games will start July 29 in San Diego

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – In just under two weeks, people will gather for what’s called “the world’s largest celebration of life”, otherwise known as the Donate Life Transplant Games. Transplant recipients, living donors and donor families from 40 states and other countries will meet in San Diego for an Olympic style game tournament. Every person at the Transplant Games has a story to tell and no two stories are exactly the same.

Maddie Blankenship has been competing in the transplant games for the last 8 years, making this her fourth games. When she was just 3 months old, she received a liver transplant from her uncle.

“I get to go there and I get to meet other kids, it’s like wow, you have a similar story. Someone in your family donated to you, you were also a baby,” says Blankenship. “We may not have the same organ donation but it’s a similar story and it makes sense.”

Blankenship says the Transplant Games are more than just an opportunity to play some of her favorite games and win medals, it’s a chance to make friends for life with people who know her struggles.

“Sometimes you meet normal people and they’re just like ‘that’s weird, you’re weird because you’ve gone through this life-changing situation and you can’t swim or you can’t do this and you’re weird because of it’,” says Blankenship. “But you go to the games and it’s a really good mental boost for you.”

Sallie Wilson, the Team Kentucky manager, says the Transplant Games experience has come full-circle for her. She first went in 1996 after her son died and was an organ donor. She says she hasn’t missed a games since even after receiving two kidney transplants and a pancreas transplant.

Team Kentucky is made up of 17 recipients, 2 living donors, one tissue recipient and 6 donor families. Wilson says altogether, they really just make up one big family.

“These people inspire me all the time on our team,” says Wilson. “We’ve lost some people along the way which really saddens our family, but other than that we are very close and cheer each other on.”

The games start in San Diego on July 29th.

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