Oxford daughter and father earn medals at Transplant Games
By Richard Gaw
Fifteen-year-old Natalie Mirage is about to enter her sophomore year at Oxford Area High School, where she belongs to the school's tennis and swim teams, is a member of the school's color guard, and also competes on the swim team at the Jennersville YMCA.
So when the invitation to showcase her athletic talents to another part of the United States opened up this summer, she jumped at the opportunity, and from Aug. 2-7, she and her father Mark competed in the 2018 Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In all, the father-and-daughter team took home nine medals from the Games: Natalie earned gold in tennis singles, a bronze in tennis doubles, a silver medal in the 50-meter swim freestyle, and two more bronze medals in the 200-individual medley and 500-meter swim races.
Mark earned a gold medal in the 100-meter sprint, a silver in the 1500-meter run, and also picked up a silver medal in the 100-meter freestyle and bronze in the 50-meter freestyle swim events.
The Mirages were two of 12 Chester residents who traveled to the Games as members of Team Philadelphia, who took home 150 medals, including 69 gold, 43 silver and 38 bronze. In total, more than 200 people attended the games from Delaware, southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.
While the Games presented her with an opportunity to shine on the tennis court and in the pool, there was another purpose for Natalie to spend a week of her summer in Utah.
Held every two years, the Transplant Games of America spotlights athletes in the country who are organ and tissue transplant recipients and living organ donors. The Games also celebrates the life-giving sacrifices of bone marrow, cornea, tissue and organ donor families. The Games are held in partnership with the Philadelphia-based Gift of Life Donor Program, the largest organ procurement organization in the U.S., who serves more than 11 million people across the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware.
Since 1974, Gift of Life has coordinated more than 46,000 life-saving organs for transplant, and approximately one million tissue transplants have resulted from the generosity of donors and their families.
In November 2009, Natalie, then nine years old, was added to a kidney transplant waiting list after her illness was misdiagnosed and she went into end stage renal failure. After more than a three year-long wait on dialysis, she finally received a transplant at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In honor of her daughter, Mark donated one of his kidneys to a woman in Harrisburg. In turn, that woman's husband donated a kidney to a woman in Atlanta.
“I thought the trip was life changing for me,” Natalie said. “I got to meet people who have different stories but have also gone on to have experiences like I have had. Meeting these people gave me an entirely new mindset. I realized that I am not alone in the world, that there are so many others like me.”
The Games also influenced Mark.
“One of things we talked about before we left for this year's Games was that this would be the first and only time we would compete,” he said. “In actuality, we'll probably go to every Transplant Games, now. There were a lot of stories shared, tons of emotion and we got to meet a many brave people.”
From an athletic standpoint, the Transplant Games also served as a vehicle for Natalie to set personal goals.
“Natalie's swimming coach has been wanting her to complete a 500-meter race, so the Games seemed like a perfect time for her to do it,” Mark said. “My wife and I told Natalie to step out of her comfort zone and accomplish that. I was content to just sign up for some track events, but Natalie told me to step out of my comfort zone and swim too.”
Natalie and Mark are already making plans to compete at the 2020 Transplant Games of America, which will be held in New Jersey.
Approximately 115,000 Americans are waiting for an organ transplant, including 5,300 men, women and children in the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware region. To learn more about the Gift of Life Donor Program, or to register as a donor on your driver's license, visit www.donors1.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]