By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Ramsey Harris sounds weak. He breathes laboriously, but his mood picks up when he talks about the biannual Donate Life Transplant Games of America, taking place August 2 to August 7 in Salt Lake City.
Harris, 28, underwent a kidney transplant as a youngster and is awaiting a second one plus a pancreas. He is part of the 24-member Team Arizona.
Participants compete in events like track and field, basketball, ballroom dancing, golf, swimming, Texas Hold ‘Em Poker, a trivia challenge and a virtual triathlon.
The games are for solid organ recipients who are at least seven months post-transplant and have a signed release from their doctor. In recent years, tissue and cornea recipients and living donors have been allowed to compete in their own divisions.
Harris is participating in cornhole, pickleball and bowling.
The Sahuarita native has been suffering most of his life. When he was 2, he and his family ate at Jack in the Box, and came down with food poisoning. The e. coli turned into hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a disease characterized by hemolytic anemia (caused by the destruction of red blood cells), acute kidney failure and a low platelet count. It usually affects children.
“It’s very rare,” Harris says. “People didn’t even really know what it was for the most part. It wasn’t common.”
His transplant lasted 12 years. He attended Sahuarita High School until his senior year, when officials said he couldn’t continue. He was on dialysis and was forced to miss many days.
“I found out a lot later that they couldn’t really do that,” Harris says.
His passion is with the Donate Life Transplant Games of America.
“It’s a lot of fun and there are teams from all over the country,” Harris says. “We’re all getting together for the same reason – to bring awareness. It’s a huge event and it’s a really good experience. It’s a vacation for us, too. It’s pretty much the only vacation we ever get.”
The coolest part, he says, is collecting pins from other states.
“Each state creates their own pin,” Harris explains. “It’s a big part of being in the games. That’s the best part of it.”
For more information, visit transplantgamesofamerica.org.