A Hamilton mother and son with a special bond took home the gold at the Transplant Games of America this August, but they might argue that they won big long before the summer games.
Gigi Snyder was 22 weeks pregnant with her youngest son, Mike, when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Seventeen years and three kidney transplants later, the Steinert High student is alive and well, partly thanks to a kidney donation from his mom.
Snyder can still recall the feeling of happiness that came over her when she learned she was a match to donate her kidney to her child in need. Mike underwent his first kidney transplant when he was just 23 months old.
Unfortunately, Mike’s body rejected his mother’s kidney, and he had another transplant when he was 6. He underwent his third transplant last October.
Having three kidney transplants by the time you’re 17 is a rarity, even for someone born with kidney failure. Snyder said that Mike’s weakened immune system makes it easier for viruses to attack the kidney.
“He’s the exception, not the rule,” she said.
After Mike’s most recent transplant, the Snyder’s set their sights on competing in the 2018 Transplant Games. The multi-sport festival is designed to celebrate people who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. Living donors, organ recipients, bone marrow, corneal and tissue transplant recipients are all welcome to participate in the games.
This summer’s games were held in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Mike and his mom both participated in the games with Team Philadelphia. The Snyders each won a gold medal in bowling, and Mike won a silver medal in basketball.
This is the family’s fifth transplant games. Mike participated in his first Transplant Games when he was five, and he’s only missed two years due to dialysis.
“[The Transplant Games are] an awesome experience because you’re with people who get it,” Snyder said. Mike is able to reconnect with friends he met during his first transplant games, and Snyder said seeing everyone grow through the years and bond has become a highlight of the event.
In addition to the games, families of deceased donors are honored by event organizers and donor recipients.
“We honor them in so many different ways because it’s their loved ones that made it possible for so many people to live,” Snyder said. “You just can’t help but go up to them and say thank you. Even though they weren’t your donor, they were someone’s donor. That family made a decision in the darkest time of their lives that helped someone else live.”
Approximately 115,000 Americans are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, according to Transplant Games. Since Mike received his first transplant in 2003, the Snyders have volunteered for the Gift of Life Donor Program, a sponsor of the games and advocate for organ donation.
“I’m a huge advocate for organ donation,” she said. “I know it’s a very personal decision, but it’s the ultimate way to help someone.”