The Transplant Games of America: 2022

The Donate Life Transplant Games, held this year in San Diego, CA (July 29 - August 3), is a biennial, multi-sport festival event produced by the Transplant Games of America for individuals who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. Competition events are open to living donors, organ transplant recipients, bone marrow, corneal and tissue transplant recipients. More than an athletic event, the Donate Life Transplant Games highlight the critical importance of organ, eye, and tissue donation, while celebrating the lives of organ donors and recipients.

By Jacqui Kates, LSW, CT | June 29, 2016

The Transplant Games of America are elusive to most yet significant to many: a week-long extravaganza that closely mirrors the world’s beloved Olympic Games. And, like the Olympics, opening ceremonies provide an emotional recognition of the unity and shared experience of everyone present. Intense competition transpires on the courts, fields, pools, and halls as participants strive to bring home the most medals. The stands are completely occupied by exuberant fans decked out in their team’s gear. Workshops, coffee houses, quilt displays and vendors offer a break among the rivalry.

Yet, these games differ quite drastically from the Olympics in several substantial ways. The participants are not world class athletes, but individuals who have been given a second chance of life through transplantation. The passionate crowds in the stands are not your typical spectators either; they are donor families honoring their loved ones’ memory, living donors, Transplant Centers, Organ Procurement Organizations, and all the incredible people who comprise the support system of the transplantation community.

The competition is an obvious testament to the success of transplantation. It is quite striking to step back and consider that the athletes once connected to the more than 100,000 on the waiting list are now able to shoot hoops, swim laps, and swing a racket because of the compassion of another. Although recipients summon their athletic prowess partially to bring home the gold, their primary intent is to demonstrate their appreciation for this second chance and to honor their heroic donors.

Donor Families & Recipients

The Transplant Games provide a different experience for donor families. Observing healthy recipients exuding zeal for life allows for the presence of positive feelings around the tragedy of their loved ones’ death. Donor families are invited to participate in many special events, including a tribute ceremony and a butterfly release.  Numerous workshops are offered with topics pertinent to loss and bereavement. Families have the opportunity to create and pin a quilt square in honor of their loved one. The atmosphere at the Games is supportive and safe; a space where donor families may openly express their grief and share their stories. The life and legacy of the donor is omnipresent.

The unique beauty of the Games lies within the interactions between the donor families and recipients. Although the media often normalizes and sensationalizes meetings between the two parties, it is actually quite an uncommon occurrence. Many donor families never meet or even receive correspondence from their loved one’s recipients and vice-versa. However, at the Transplant Games, each recipient identifies every donor family as their own. Countless hugs and thank you(s) are exchanged throughout the week. Medals earned rarely remain long on the necks of the athlete as they are soon gifted to the closest donor family member.  The boundaries of team loyalty do not exist here, the appreciation and awe is palpable from all.

A Personal Observation

Accompanying Team Philadelphia for five days in San Diego, CA for the Games was an unforgettable and profound experience. Our team wonderfully represented the Transplant Foundation in our vibrant uniforms and proudly celebrated our donors. Together we conquered the games and proved that transplantation works. We hope that our efforts in San Diego will demonstrate the importance of organ and tissue donation and that we adequately honored our donors and their families who altruistically gave the gift of life.

For additional information about the Transplant Games, visit:

Name, is a Title at Gift of Life Donor Program in Philadelphia, PA

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