Health & Science

Houston Hosts National Transplant Games for First Time

For the first time Houston will be host city for an Olympics-style competition known as the Transplant Games of America. More than 1,500 athletes will participate in track & field, basketball, swimming and other events — and most will the competitors are people who have received an organ transplant.

The Transplant Games of America began in 1990 and take place every other year. It’s the first time Houston has been the host city.

Andi Sonpon will be a first-time competitor. She’s a high school teacher and cheerleading coach in the Alief neighborhood of southwest Houston.

Last October, Sonpon was at Houston Methodist, recovering from a liver transplant at age 42. One day a man who had had a heart transplant stopped by to give her a pep talk.

“He visited me in the hospital, he’s a volunteer, and he told me about the Games. And he said ‘You have to come to the Games, you have to!’ Sonpon recalled.

“And I’m like, laying in the bed thinking ‘Okay, yeah, I’ll be there.’ And I’m here and I’m actually having the chance to compete, so it’s wonderful.”

Sonpon will compete in ballroom dancing. She says the Transplant Games show that people can survive and thrive for years, even if they have to take anti-rejection drugs.

“It just brings a real-life example, a visual, to know that once you go through this that you can still do the things that you’ve done before,” she said. “You can still run and jump and dance and move about. It’s just a touch of life.”

The Games are also a thank-you of sorts to those who donated organs and tissue. Competitors get to meet relatives of people who died but donated their organs, and help celebrate the gift of donation. So-called “living donors” also are eligible to compete – people who gave a kidney, part of a liver, bone marrow or some tissue.

 “It’s so indicative of the fact that there’s so much generosity still in this world,” said Kevin Myer, President and CEO of LifeGift in Houston. LifeGift is the non-profit organ procurement organization for the Houston region – one of 58 spread across the U.S.

“None of this happens unless somebody says ‘yes,’” he added.

There are more than 120,000 Americans on a waiting list for a transplant. The donor registration rate is about 32 percent in Texas, but the goal is to hit 50 percent of all licensed drivers.

“We hope that the Games serve as a catalyst to drive more people into the Donate Life Texas registry, so go to donatelifetexas.org,” Myer said.

You can also sign up when you renew your driver’s license or register your car.

Anyone can watch the Transplant Games or join in a 5K run on Saturday.

Events will take place at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Rice University, and other places. Click here for details and a full schedule.

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Andrea “Andi” Sonpon, a liver recipient and first-time competitor in the Transplant Games, with Houston LifeGift CEO Kevin Myer.

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Florian Martin

Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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