T.J. Maciak, a two-time donor kidney recipient, recently reached out to the family of the organ donor.
He said writing the letter was a difficult process, knowing that — in this case — someone died in order for him to receive a kidney, but he had good news to share.
Maciak, senior programmer for the Community Research Institute at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy, has been instrumental in both saving the Transplant Games of America and bringing the games and its estimated 1,000 athletes from 40 states to Grand Valley and West Michigan.
The Transplant Games will run July 28-31; many of the 11 events will be held on campus.
Maciak underwent his first kidney transplant when he was a first-year student at Grand Valley in 1994. Beginning in 1996, he has competed in 11 Transplant Games, which alternate annually between the U.S. and locations worldwide.
The National Kidney Foundation had hosted the games but announced in 2011 that it would no longer sponsor the event. That is when Maciak went to work.
He began contacting people, asking for help to find a site and organization willing to host the games. Eventually he found the West Michigan Sports Commission, of which Laker Athletic Director Tim Selgo is a member.
“You can say the stars aligned,” Maciak said.
Maciak plans to compete in basketball, volleyball and doubles bowling, in addition to running in the 5K race. He said he looks forward to seeing many friends at the games.
“It’s a great community of recipients, living donors and donor families,” he said, adding that in addition to athletes, 1,500 supporters are expected to attend the games.
The games were established to raise awareness of organ and tissue donation. More than 112,000 patients are currently waiting for an organ transplant. Michigan had been ranked 46th in organ donation, but Maciak said the state’s donor registry is increasing thanks in part to media attention of the games and support from the Secretary of State.