COURTESY SETTLEMIRE FAMILY
Skyler, Alberta, Cheyne and Karen Settlemire attended the Transplant Games in 2004, representing Rick, below.
Transplant Games serve dual purpose
Recipients compete with renewed gusto and donors' families see the positive result
When her husband, Rick, died on Jan. 10, 2003, Karen Settlemire was in a "fog of uncertainty" about donating his organs even though both of them had "organ donor" marked on their driver's licenses
Then her youngest son, Skyler, told her that when he went to get his driver's permit and checked "no" for organ donor, his father told him, "Of course you want to be an organ donor."
"Because of Skyler, I knew what I had to decide," Settlemire said. She had no idea what a great impact the decision would have on her, she added.
Karen Settlemire and sons, Skyler, 19, and Cheyne, 21, will be among 20 supporters accompanying 10 Team Hawaii participants in the 2006 U.S. Transplant Games in Louisville, Ky., June 16-19.
The games provided healing for the Settlemires in an unexpected way.
She was invited in 2004 to attend the U.S. Transplant Games at the University of Minnesota and went with her sons and mother-in-law, Alberta Settlemire, of Pensacola, Fla.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity to be with the boys and try to celebrate Rick's life," Settlemire said.
Her family joined Team Hawaii transplant recipients who competed in the games and other donor families and supporters.
"It was the most healing event," she said.
The National Kidney Foundation and Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. sponsor the U.S. Transplant Games, the largest sports event in the world for organ transplant recipients.
About 10,000 people are expected to participate this year, including athletes, families, donor families and transplant professionals, according to the Kidney Foundation.
"Each year it is growing by the thousands," said Settlemire, retail sales consultant for Hawaiian Telcom, Mililani. "I am happy more people are attending because more people are aware (of the importance of organ donations)."
Transplant recipients compete for medals in 12 sports, including swimming, cycling, basketball, and track and field.
Settlemire said "everyone who attended already knew they were all winners. They enthusiastically competed out of appreciation and gratitude for their second chance at life."
Educational programs and workshops were held for grieving families of non-living organ donors, living donors and medical professionals, she said.
She was so moved by her experience that she wrote a short article about it, saying: "While there, I thought to myself, 'Here are ordinary people living extraordinary lives.' The exuberance they exhibit as they continue on with their lives and, in the most humble of manners, only confirmed that my decision to donate Rick's organs was a priceless one."
When team members and donor families were introduced from each state, she said, "As I stood, overwhelmed by the standing ovation and deafening cheers that seemed to go on forever, tears streamed down my face. At that very moment, I realized that Rick truly lives on and in his own style of helping others as he always did."
One of those helped by Rick Settlemire's donation was Fred Krauss of Olinda, Maui, a co-producer of Keali'i Reichel's music.
He received a lifesaving transplant with Rick Settlemire's liver.
"I was extremely lucky," said Krauss, who will be 46 in July. "They told me they weren't sure I would get a donor if this one didn't work out, and I might not make it to the next one. I can't even express in words how great it is to have someone like the Settlemires."
Krauss said he had a liver virus caused by hepatitis B. He was told in 2000 that "something was wrong," but "it took two years before they diagnosed what was wrong," he said.
He said he didn't realize how sick he was until he got the transplant. He lived in Kailua for six weeks after the surgery, walking the beach every day to get stronger. He was back at work in about two months.
He's feeling "excellent" now, he said, noting his recent blood tests were "perfect." And he's back to skiing. The only year he missed on the slopes was the transplant year, he said.
When he goes to the clinic, Krauss said he sits in the waiting room "with all the other transplants. I think how many people wouldn't be here if we didn't share this common bond of donors giving up organs.
"It's so many lives you can save with that one gift."
Krauss sent the Settlemires a letter about a year after the transplant that Karen said was very touching. He said it was difficult to write because there is "a certain guilt thing you go through, that I'm alive and Rick's not."
He said she sent him pictures of her husband. "They are a real special family ... I feel a responsibility to be strong, to exercise, eat well and take care of this liver for me and for Karen. I appreciate every day."
10 organ transplant recipients from Hawaii set to compete
Ten Hawaii organ transplant recipients ranging from age 11 to 67, including several previous medal winners, will participate in the 2006 U.S. Transplant Games June 16-21 in Louisville, Ky.
Jose Racasa of Honolulu, a living kidney donor, will be among those accompanying the team and will compete in an open 5K run.
Sandy Webster, of Kalaheo, Kauai, is going to the games for the seventh year. She began competing athletically in 1994 after the first of two kidney transplants. "Before, I was so sick, too tired to do anything," she said.
In 2004, Webster, 43, won the gold medal in women's tennis doubles, and individual silver medals in singles competition. She'll participate in those events again this year.
Martin Hee, 65, of Kaneohe, a retired firefighter, veteran decathlete and track and long-distance coach at Castle High School, will go to the U.S. Transplant Games for the eighth time since 1992.
A kidney transplant recipient, he won gold in the men's softball throw and silver in men's long jump last year. This year he'll participate in the long jump, discus and softball throw. He also has won gold medals in the World Transplant Games.
Other returning transplant athletes at the U.S. games are Ray (R.J.) Agaran, Jr., 11, of Paia, Maui, who won two gold medals in 2004. The youth, who had a kidney transplant, will participate this year in his age division's 50-meter race, long jump and softball throw.
Rachael Wong, 34, of Honolulu, also a kidney transplant recipient, will compete in women's tennis singles and doubles. In 2004, she won a bronze medal in singles tennis.
Other repeat athletes on Team Hawaii are kidney transplant recipients Herb Endo, 67, and Rae Dean "Dee Dee" Tomihama, 50, both of Honolulu. Endo will participate in the 5K road race and golf and Tomihama will compete in the 5K road race and bowling.
Honolulu team members Anna Zimmerman, 38; Les Malala, 56; Joshua Rosen, 20, and Howard Smith, 56, will compete in one or more events, such as swimming, bowling, tennis, road races, cycling, racquetball and volleyball.
Zimmerman is a bone marrow recipient; Rosen and Smith had liver transplants, and Malala a kidney transplant.
Racasa, a 22-year employee at Trellisses Restaurant at the Radisson Waikiki Prince Kuhio Hotel, donated a kidney to Walter Nishioka in April 2003.
Nishioka, a frequent patron at the restaurant, had told Racasa he needed a kidney transplant but that his rare blood type made it unlikely a donor would be found in time to save his life.
Racasa was so moved by Nishioka's plight he offered to help, according to the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii. He was a match and the transplant was a success, the foundation said.