Harris County-Houston Sports Authority Insider

World Transplant Games give participants a shot to honor donors

Amy Frackowiak is a big part of the transplant games. Twitter.com

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The first time she stepped onto the basketball court as an adult on the national stage, Amy Frackowiak played almost the entire game.

OK. So it was half court basketball, but there are two other things worth noting about her debut.

First, the she was playing for Team Texas, a team of transplant recipients. Second, she was barely a year removed her surgery.

If she’d had it her way, Frackowiak would have debuted on the world stage at the World Transplant Games a year earlier – and just two months removed from that surgery. But doctors said no.

“So I set my eyes  on the U.S. games and I was hooked,’’ said the 37-year-old who works with potential kidney transplant patients at St. Luke’s Hospital.

The manager of Team Texas since 2014, Frackowiak has now competed in four U.S. games and two World Transplant Games.  

And you can count her as one of those cheering last week when it was announced Houston was chosen to host the 2021 World Transplant Games. It will mark the first time in 41 years the event has been played in America.

“It’s going to mean a lot to the recipients and donors,’’ she said. “A lot of patients don’t travel (overseas) because of the cost and not wanting to go that far.

“For them to be able to compete here, it’s going to be an amazing experience.”

Houston held the U.S. only event – the Transplant Games of America -- in 2014, which had the largest attendance in history at the time with 14 sports and 2,523 participants, including 800 athletes from Texas.

Houston could host another record-setter in 2021. The last time the event was in America was 1980, when New York hosted the third World Transplant Games.

The World Transplant Games is an annual event with Winter Games in even-numbered years and Summer Games in odd-numbered years.  The U.S. event, which is separate from the World Transplant Games, is held every two years.

Over the years, Frackowiak has competed in volleyball, basketball and track and field.

Back in 2009, she was completely healed two weeks after surgery and ready to fly to Sydney, Australia for the ’09 Games. “I hit the ground running and wasn’t looking back,’’ she said. But that’s when the doctors told her she would have to wait.

Every time she competes, she’s like any other athlete – anxious and excited.  “Once I’m there,’’ she said, “it’s pure adrenaline.’’

The Games are filled with stories like hers. They highlight the amazing things transplant patients – and now also their donors – can do after surgeries. They also highlight the need for donors.

According to statistics, one organ donor can save eight lives. One organ, eye and tissue donor can safe 50 lives.

When Houston hosted the 2014 U.S. event, Texas had about 4 million people on the donor registry. After the event and with the help of a campaign by the Texas Department of Safety to sign up drivers as donors when they renewed their licenses, pushed the number well past 8 million.

This year’s Transplant Games of America will be held in Salt Lake City in August and the 2019 World Transplant Games will be in Newcastle, Gateshead, UK.

Competitors at the 2021 WTG will compete at venues around the city, including Memorial Park and the University of Houston. And, even those used to their national or the European event will take a deep breath.

“The World Transplant Games,’’ Frackowiak said, “is on a different level.’’

But the focus? It will be the same.

“To compete and honor their donor,’’ she said, “and prove that donation works.”


 

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