Meet Ron Packard: Liver Recipient and Two-Time Transplant Games Participant

In 1985, at the age of 19, Ron Packard was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis. Within nine years, his liver began to fail and Ron was unable to drive or work; he was placed on the transplant waiting list in early October 1994.  On October 14, 1994, Ron received the life-saving call and the liver transplant one day later.

Ron had one really good week and six very bad months before needing another liver transplant. On April 12, 1995, Ron received the second gift of life and has had the same liver for 21 years. Although the second donor is anonymous, Ron has some information about his first donor, Andrea. Andrea was 27 at the time of her passing and had a 7-year-old son named Tony. When the tragedy happened, Andrea’s husband knew his wife’s donation wishes because they had the conversation earlier that spring after Andrea’s niece received a liver transplant. Ron says, “Every day my donors are part of everything I do. If it hadn’t been for the first liver transplant, I might not have lived long enough for the second transplant.”

After receiving his transplants, Ron and his wife have been able to fulfill their dream of owning a home and raising a family. They have, a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, James and Joy, and they just celebrated their 22nd wedding anniversary. “I get to do all the wonderful things that parents hope to do and want to do with their kids. I have had 22 extra Christmases, birthdays and holidays with my parents, nieces and nephews, cousins and in-laws. I’ve been a part of their lives now for more than two decades because of the transplants,” says Ron.

Thanks to the donation, Ron is also able to work a full-time job and is healthy enough to start a lot of home improvement projects around the house. “Every day I wake up and my life is devoted to helping those who are still waiting,” says Ron. “I’m alive to get out of bed in the morning. A lot of people can’t. That’s a thankful moment.”

Ron is looking forward to participating in the 2016 Transplant Games and being a part of the experience again. Ron competed in swimming events in 2008 and 2010. “The great thing about the games is you don’t have to be a world-class athlete to participate,” says Ron. “The games show that transplants make a difference and organ donation gives people their lives back.”

Ron’s favorite part of the games is the opening ceremony. “The last individuals to come into the games at the opening ceremony are the donor families,” says Ron. “When the donor families come in, there are standing ovations and rounds of applause. It’s a chance to honor these families in ways they may never have been honored before.” For the 2016 Transplant Games, Ron plans to participate in the trivia challenge and possibly table tennis.

Ron Packard Quick Facts:

Age: 50

Lives: Columbus, Ohio

Connection to donation community: Two-time liver recipient

Transplant Games sports: Ron expects to participate in the trivia challenge and maybe table tennis.

Favorite professional sport: NFL football/Bengals

If he could spend the day with any athlete – dead, alive or fictional – it would be: Jesse Owens. “Jesse Owens embodies the idea that never giving up can lead you to places in life you once only dreamed were possible. As transplant recipients, we too face challenges and I would love the opportunity to learn how Jesse overcame his to compete in a sport he loved, against the best athletes in the world,” says Ron.  

Favorite athlete: Archie Griffin. In 1973, Ron was a sick 7-year-old at Nationwide Children’s Hospital when the Ohio State football players came into the hospital for a visit. “To have Archie come in and spend time with us is something I’ve never forgotten. I have a vivid memory of that 40 years later,” says Ron.  

Favorite quote: “Life’s too short to wait in line twice for bacon bits.” –Ron Packard

 

MEET ALLISON HERR: TWO-TIME TRANSPLANT GAMES PARTICIPANT AND LIVER RECIPIENT

Allison Herr is a liver recipient and two-time Transplant Games participant. An active 12-year-old, Allison enjoys running, swimming, volleyball and basketball. She has won several medals, ranging from bronze to gold.

Looking at Allison and her active lifestyle today, it’s hard to imagine that she was born with Biliary Atresia, a pediatric liver disease, and was placed on the transplant list when she was only three months old. Her first few years of life included weekly trips to the doctor and more than seven medications each day. Allison spent nearly two years on the waiting list, her life and her family’s life revolving around her disease.

On January 21, 2006 at midnight, Allison’s family received the lifesaving call, informing them that a liver was available. At just two and a half years old, Allison received a whole liver transplant from an anonymous donor.  

“We are forever grateful for organ donation,” said Jen Herr, Allison’s mother. “Without it, we too would be in grief of losing our child.  We are thankful each day, each night to have our child and see her thrive in life.”

Now nearly a teenager, Allison is active inside school and out. She is involved with 4-H, on student council, a volunteer with Life Connection of Ohio and several sports. She participated in the 2012 and 2014 Transplant Games and is looking forward to competing again in her home state of Ohio. Allison plans to participate in swimming, track & field, volleyball and basketball.

“The games made a difference in my life by allowing me to look forward to having fun and making more friends while being healthy,” said Allison. “Because of my new liver, I can do horseback riding, basketball and volleyball.  I’m able to live life to the fullest.”

“It’s not about winning; it’s about life,” said Jen. “To go from being so sick and sleeping all day, to running, swimming, and competing is an amazing experience. The games are a time to reflect, to honor donor families and get the most out of the second chance at life.”

ALLISON HERR QUICK FACTS:

Age: 12

Lives: Metamora, Ohio

Connection to donation community: liver recipient

Number of Transplant Games attended: 2

Favorite quote: “I love you to the moon and back.”

Favorite professional sport: The rodeo event barrel racing

If she could spend the day with any athlete – dead, alive or fictional – who would it be? Gabby Douglas “She’s a gymnast,” said Allison. “And she’s very good! I love gymnastics too.”

Meet Victoria Holmes-Schmalstig: Four-Time Transplant Games Participant and Three-Time Kidney Recipient

Victoria was born with reflux nephropathy, a kidney disease. Shortly after she graduated from high school, doctors informed Victoria’s family that she would need a kidney transplant or she would have to start dialysis. Victoria’s parents were both tested as potential donors and her dad, Larry Holmes Senior, was the best match.

On July 16, 1993, Victoria received a kidney transplant from her father. Although Victoria was grateful for this life-saving gift, it was hard to see her dad take an early retirement from the Air Force in order to donate his kidney. Three years later, Larry’s kidney started to fail and Victoria needed a second transplant. Victoria’s husband at the time was a match, so her second kidney transplant took place on April 9, 1996. Unfortunately, her ex-husband’s kidney only lasted 6 hours and Victoria ended up on life support for two weeks.

In October of 1996, Victoria started dialysis and was put on the national donor registry. After six years on dialysis, Victoria contracted peritonitis and became very sick. It was at this time that her twenty-four year old brother, Michael, came forward. Victoria’s little brother was a perfect match and her third transplant took place on Mach 4, 2013. Thanks to her brother’s life-saving gift, Victoria now gets to be an active part of her nieces’ and nephews’ lives. “Because of my brother, I get to live my life and am no longer tied to a machine,” says Victoria.  

Victoria thinks about her kidney donations every single day, but it affects her the most during special celebrations, like birthdays and graduations. “Without my kidney transplants, I wouldn’t have been able to make memories with my family and friends over the past 13 years,” says Victoria. Victoria tells people who are uncertain about registering, “to put a face with that number, because every single number on the waiting list is a person with family and friends who love them.”

This year will be Victoria’s fifth Transplant Games. She participated in the games in 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2010. During the past games, Victoria competed in volleyball, bowling, swimming and basketball. This year, Victoria plans to participate in the 5K walk, volleyball, and bowling. Although Victoria hasn’t won any medals yet, when she does, it will go to her brother, Michael.

The games mean everything to Victoria because without the games she wouldn’t have met her second husband, Tony Schmalstig, from Team Ohio. Victoria adds, “Everyone on Team Ohio has become my transplant family and I can’t imagine my life without these people.”

Victoria Holmes-Schmalstig Quick Facts:

Age: 41

Lives: Heath, Ohio

Connection to donation community: three-time kidney recipient

Number of Transplant Games attended: 4

Favorite quote: “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

Favorite professional sport: Baseball.

If she could spend the day with any athlete – dead, alive or fictional – who would it be? Babe Ruth. “I’m a huge baseball fan and read an interesting book about him. I think I could learn so much about the game of baseball from him,” says Victoria.  

Favorite athlete: Shin-Soo Choo. “I am a huge Indians fan and while at a game I was so intrigued by his style of play. I have since followed him as he has been traded around to other teams. He never stops working to improve his game and I love that dedication,” says Victoria.

Team Ohio love story: Victoria met her second husband, Tony Schmalstig, on Team Ohio, since he’s a kidney recipient. “Our life-saving gifts are a huge deal for the both of us because we know without our transplants we wouldn’t have met and we wouldn’t be here today to celebrate our marriage,” says Victoria. Major baseball fans, they were married on a baseball field in the fall of 2015. Half of the people who attended Victoria and Tony’s wedding were people they met through Team Ohio, the Transplant Games and through the donation community.

 

 

Meet Randy Zibell: Liver Recipient and First-Time Transplant Games Participant

When Randy Zibell was in his mid-forties, he was diagnosed with liver disease. Despite having no symptoms, Randy learned that the only cure would be a liver transplant.  Even with his condition, Randy was able to live a normal life for several years. He was 61-years-old when his condition worsened and he was referred to the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Doctors told Randy he qualified for a transplant, but was not sick enough to be put on the transplant waiting list. In the following months he planned his finances, named a financial and medical power of attorney, and made a living will and will that included his wishes to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.

As Randy’s liver failed and his muscles atrophied, he postponed his retirement and continued to go to work until he could barely walk into his office from the parking lot. One day, Randy became gravely ill and his wife, Diane, took him to the hospital where he was officially added to the transplant waiting list. Randy was so sick that he stayed in the hospital until a liver transplant was available. On February 4, 2014, Randy successfully received a liver transplant from an anonymous 46-year-old woman.  

“My donor’s gift of life has granted me the hope of a long retirement and the pleasures of life that go with it, including spending time with my grandson, Jacob,” says Randy. “Every day I think about my donor and I am forever grateful to this person. The generosity and courage of my donor is a constant inspiration to me.  This person has given me life and this selfless act moves me to strive to live a charitable life.”

Randy is excited about participating in the 2016 Transplant Games and says how kind and inspiring the transplant community has been. Although it has been a long recovery process for Randy, his goal is to be able to run a 5K race at the Transplant Games. He recently started jogging and says, “Every time I run, I think about my donor.”

Randy Zibell Quick Facts:

Age: 64

Lives: Columbus, Ohio

Connection to donation community: Liver recipient

Transplant Games sports: Randy expects to participate in the 5K, golf and volleyball.

Favorite professional sports: Soccer

 

If he could spend the day with any athlete – dead, alive or fictional – it would be: Jordan Spieth. “I have observed Jordan Spieth in practice rounds and in addition to being a talented golfer, he has an amazing ability to live in the moment, enjoy life and appreciate others. If I could play a round of golf with him, I am convinced he would improve my game and we would have a blast,” says Randy.  

Favorite athlete: Hank Aaron. “I grew up playing baseball and following Hank Aaron. He is an inspiration for the journey he has taken in life to overcome poverty and racism to become a legendary athlete who although not the paradigm of a home run hitter in stature or of swing became the all time home run leader in MLB history. At the same time, he conducted himself as a model competitor and gentleman who gives generously of himself to the community. He believes one of the best things you can do in life is to put a smile on a child's face,” says Randy.

Favorite quote: “Your Way To Happiness: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply; expect little, give much; fill your life with love; scatter sunshine. Forget self. Think of others, and do as you would be done by.” -H. C. Mattern 

 

Meet Catherine Ker: Two-Time Kidney Recipient and Transplant Games Participant

Imagine being told as a child that you only have one kidney. Then, one day in your 20s after going to the hospital for multiple kidney infections, you find out that you do, in fact, have two kidneys. The one you were told didn’t exist is the size of a pea, and the other kidney is only functioning at 60 percent. This is Catherine Ker’s story.

Once it was discovered, the pea-size kidney was removed, and Catherine was told she would be fine the rest of her life. Not the case. Right as she was preparing for her wedding, Catherine became lethargic and was not her active self. After testing, she found out her kidney was not functioning at capacity. Six years later she was in complete renal failure.

“I think denial hit first, along with fear, but then my survival mode kicked-in, and I just wanted to get better,” says Catherine. “I have been active my entire life – ballet lessons for close to 14 years starting at age three, and also played softball, volleyball, and bowling.  All I wanted to do was get back to normal, but I was so sick I had to stop doing all of those things.”

Catherine’s husband, brother and dad were all tested to be donors. In 1996, six months after testing, her dad decided to donate. Two months after the transplant, Catherine was back on the volleyball court and doing everything she loved to do. All was well for about six and a half years until her dad’s kidney started to fail.

In December of 2002, she went back on dialysis and was put on the waiting list.  She had listed herself at multiple hospitals in hopes of lessening the 3-5 year wait.

“I still continued to work, and I still managed to play volleyball and bowl.  It became harder and harder to do, but I felt that if I kept doing these things it helped me mentally and physically to be in better shape for transplantation.”

The call came on a Thursday evening in 2006, past her home’s no-calls-after 9 p.m. rule. It was The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati telling her they had a kidney for her. Catherine remained calm and not too hopeful as she had received two false alarms before, but this ended up being “The Call.”

Since her transplant, Catherine is able to maintain her healthy and active lifestyle. Last August, she celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary. She has watched her nieces and nephews graduate college. Donation has made all of these things possible. “I have also met some pretty amazing people because of transplantation, other recipients who have since become very dear friends as well as donors and donor families,” says Catherine.

When asked what she would say to someone who is uncertain about registering as a donor, Catherine states that you can save so many lives. You can give others a second chance at life, a chance to watch their loved ones grow and to gain new experiences. It’s the most selfless thing a person can do.

This summer, Catherine will be participating in her third Transplant Games. She will be competing in her usual events, volleyball and bowling, but she’ll also be trying her hand in darts and cornhole. In 2008 and 2010, she and her bowling partner won gold medals in their age category. She’s aiming for the same trophy this year.

Catherine’s favorite part of the games is the opening ceremony when all the donors and donor families walk into the arena. She gets chills every time she sees it.

Catherine says, “I compete in the games because athletics have always been a part of my life, but most importantly, I want others to realize what organ donation can do. Do we live a completely normal life afterwards? Maybe not, but it’s pretty darn close. We can get back out there and do the things we love. These games bring people together from all over the world – recipients, donors and donor families. It’s an overwhelming, amazing experience that sometimes you just can’t put into words. You just have to be there.”

Catherine Ker Quick Facts:

Age: 51

Lives:  Cleveland, Ohio

Connection to donation community: Two time kidney transplant recipient

Number of Transplant Games attended: Two

Transplant Games sports:  Bowling, Volleyball, Corn Hole, Darts

If you could spend the day with any athlete, dead, alive, or fictional, who would it be? “Probably either Omar Vizquel or Clay Matthews (Dad or Son,),” says Catherine.

Favorite athlete: “Omar and Clay.  Both amazing athletes,” says Catherine.

Favorite professional sports: Both baseball and football

Favorite quote:  “Live Love Laugh”

Meet Tony Schmalstig: Four-Time Transplant Games Participant and One-Time Kidney Recipient

Tony Schmalstig was born with a birth defect where one kidney was destroyed and the other kidney was badly damaged. When he was only one year old, doctors removed the destroyed kidney and repaired the damaged kidney. Despite this, Tony only had about 10 to 15 percent kidney function growing up and in the fall of 1983, Tony went into renal failure at 22-years-old.

Although Tony didn’t know it at the time, his family fought about who would be his donor. Tony was overwhelmed to learn that his 25-year-old older brother, Dennis, wanted to donate his kidney and was a perfect match. On March 16, 1984, Tony received his first kidney transplant from Dennis.

Before the transplant, Tony felt sluggish, tired, and he had no appetite. Two months post-transplant, Tony felt like a normal 22-year-old. The transplant had such an impact on Tony’s health, that he could play baseball and bowl again without any restrictions. He was also able to accomplish one of his biggest dreams – just three months after his transplant, Tony tried out for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team.  Although Tony didn’t make the team, it’s an experience he will always remember and cherish.

One of Tony’s favorite things to say to people now is, “I woke up and I know it’s going to be a good day.” This is his new mentality, because there was a time when he went to bed not knowing if he was going to wake up in the morning. “Every day I wake up and think about my brother and the sacrifice he made. I’ve been given this blessing and I’m going to make the most of it,” says Tony.   

This year will be Tony’s fifth Transplant Games. Tony participated in the games in 1998, 2000, 2004 and 2006. Tony competed in bowling and doubles bowling and received one silver and two gold medals. Without the games and Team Ohio, Tony wouldn’t have met his second wife, Victoria Holmes-Schmalstig, so he is eternally grateful for this organ donation community that brought them together.

During the games, Tony loves the companionship of being with the recipients, donors and families who have gone through similar experiences. “You become instant friends,” says Tony. Tony has a friend in Wisconsin that he has competed against in bowling four different times. His friend is currently undergoing chemo treatments, so Tony keeps encouraging him to get well so he can travel to Cleveland and bowl against Tony again. “It’s those types of friendships that you gain from the games which are so rewarding,” says Tony.

Tony Schmalstig Quick Facts:

Age: 54

Lives: Heath, Ohio

Connection to donation community: one-time kidney recipient

Number of Transplant Games attended: 4

Number of Transplant Games medals: 3

Favorite quote: “Don’t take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows we need them here.”

Favorite professional sport: Baseball

If he could spend the day with any athlete – dead, alive or fictional – who would it be? Lou Gehrig. “I have always been intrigued by Lou Gehrig because he became ill and tragically died in the prime of his life and baseball career. He was so very courageous in facing his illness, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as was my sister, who died two and a half years ago of the same disease,” says Tony.

Favorite athlete: Tony Perez. “Tony Perez is my favorite athlete because we have the same first name and he was a great baseball player,” says Tony.

Team Ohio love story: In 2007, Tony and Victoria met and became friends through Team Ohio. In 2010, Tony and Victoria went to a bowling event with some Team Ohio friends and discovered they were both getting divorced. For Tony and Victoria, it was an instant connection, since they had so much in common. They started dating a week later and have been together ever since. Major baseball fans, they were married on a baseball field in the fall of 2015. Half of the people who attended Victoria and Tony’s wedding were people they met through Team Ohio, the Transplant Games and the donation community.

Meet Mary Collins: Kidney and Tissue Recipient and Two-Time Transplant Games Participant

Mary Collins has had issues with her kidneys for many years. At 19 years old, Mary was put on blood pressure medication after her doctors told her she had high blood pressure and that her kidneys were damaged. In her mid-twenties, Mary’s blood pressure increased drastically while she was pregnant with her two daughters. When pregnant with her second daughter, Mary’s kidneys almost shut down.

When Mary was 37 years old, she was told her kidneys were failing and that she had nine months to a year and a half before they would fail completely. “After hearing this news, I cried and thought why me. I was concerned about how this would affect my girls who were preteen at the time and what treatment would be best for me,” says Mary.

After more than two years of peritoneal dialysis, Mary decided she was ready for a transplant. Mary’s doctors performed an assortment of tests and she was added to the transplant waiting list in December of 1994. After receiving several calls about potential kidney donors, it was the fourth call that took Mary off the transplant waiting list. When she received this call, a range of emotions went through her head. “I was happy I would no longer live connected to the dialysis machine, but I was sad that someone’s life had ended,” says Mary.

On April 24, 1995, at the age of 39, Mary Collins received her life-saving kidney transplant from an anonymous female donor. After receiving her transplant, Mary found love and married her second husband. “I am thankful to have met my husband, who is kind and caring, and I look forward to spending a long and happy life with him,” says Mary. “I was also able to attend both of my daughters’ weddings and saw my grandson be born, who is now 12 years old.” 

Six years after receiving her kidney transplant, Mary became a tissue recipient when she received bone tissue in her neck on November 29, 2001. “My tissue donor prevented me from losing the ability to use my arm, so I was able to pick up and hold my grandson. I’m also able to enjoy baking, bowling and I even climbed a tree with my grandson at the age of 57,” says Mary.

Mary competed in bowling events in 1998 and 2008 and is looking forward to competing in bowling again in the 2016 Transplant Games. “The games are a time to come together to meet other recipients and hear their stories,” says Mary. “Their stories might be a little different, but they know and understand the ups, downs, struggles and frustrations. It's also a time to show other people, not connected with transplantation, what a life-saving gift can do.”

 

Mary Collins Quick Facts:

Age: 60

Lives: Galloway, Ohio

Connection to donation community: Kidney and tissue recipient.

Transplant Games sports: Mary expects to participate in bowling at the games.

Favorite professional sport: Bowling.

If she could spend the day with any athlete – dead, alive or fictional – it would be: Ryan Zinn. “Ryan is inspiring as a person and as a Transplant Games athlete,” says Mary.  

Favorite athlete: “It’s a tie between two Transplant Games athletes, Carol Fitzsimons and Ryan Zinn. Carol competes in swimming competitions and we all call her Ms. Fishy while Ryan competes in track and field. They have won countless medals competing both in the U.S. and the world Transplant Games. I am so proud to know them both,” says Mary.  

Favorite quote: “Let go and let God.”