I am one of the fortunate ones and now it's my turn to help others. This posting is about a different kind of individual philanthropy.
I just recently returned from an amazing trip to Durban, South Africa where I participated in the 19th World Transplant Games. I have been competing in the Transplant Games since 1996. I am not the most skilled athlete by any stretch of the imagination but the fact that I am able to compete is what matters. You see, the summer after 4th grade I failed a sports physical. I had protein in my urine. I had a biopsy done at the Detroit Children's Hospital and it was diagnosed with kidney disease.
Life was pretty tough as a youngster; every week it seemed like I was visiting a doctor and it wasn't my idea of fun. As time went on and my condition was stable, the weekly visits turned into monthly visits, then into yearly checkups. Then came the day that would forever change who I am. It was the end of September of my senior year of high school and I almost died. My kidneys suddenly, without warning, went into end stage renal failure and I was in a coma for four days. My new life consisted of many hospital visits because I was now in need of dialysis treatments to stay alive. Dialysis was extremely hard for me as an 18-year-old. Not only did my body not tolerate the treatments very well but it was tough to see other people, some my newfound friends, doing dialysis at the same time with me and then not show up one day because they succumbed to the harshness of kidney disease.
In the years since being diagnosed with kidney disease I have had two kidney transplants, graduated from college twice (undergraduate and graduate degrees), and have traveled all over the world, thanks to both professional opportunities and being part of the transplant community and competing in the Transplant Games. It's hard to think back on that time in my life and think I am that person who went through all of those struggles but I know I am.
Now I know that my role in life isn't to dominate in sports, but to try to educate people on the importance of organ donation. Because of the anonymous gift of life that somebody gave to me, my donor -- my hero, I am still here today and having a wonderful life. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am though, so I feel it is my responsibility to try to spread the word so people understand that there are more than 115,000 people in the United States awaiting for the gift of life right today (* according to http://donatelife.net/). Sadly not all of these people are fortunate to make it to the day where they can receive a transplant because there are not enough donors.
If you haven't signed up yet to become an organ donor I suggest you think about how you might be able to help somebody out someday with the most important gift of all. It is also possible that someday you, a close friend or a family member could be one of the unfortunate ones waiting for somebody else to register to be an organ donor so you can see why educating people about the importance of organ donation helps everyone out. If you were touched by my story then please register to become an organ, eye or tissue donor today and help me spread the word!
Organ donation is an act of giving that truly does change -- and save -- lives.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2013) on December 3. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. We'll feature at least one post from a #GivingTuesday partner every weekday in November. To see all the posts in the series, click here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.
And if you'd like to share your own #GivingTuesday story, please send us your 500-850-word post to firstname.lastname@example.org.