Lung, Heart Recipients Compete with Gratitude to Donor Family

Valerie Vandervort

Fifteen-year-old Colbey Oglesby of Lockwood, MO, played volleyball, was a cheerleader and had dreams of one day becoming a photographer or beautician. When she obtained her driver's license she told her mother, Stacey, two things: that she hated her smile in the photo and that she was signing the back to designate herself as an organ donor—an action that led to her saving the lives of eight other people. On July 30-August 4, Colbey's mom joined two of those people and thousands more at the 2010 National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games, held in Madison, WI.

Within the year, Stacey recalled that conversation when she learned that her daughter had died in a car accident. The news was heart-wrenching, but Stacey and her husband knew what Colbey had wanted and so they donated their daughters' organs, saving the lives of eight other people.

Several hours away in Oklahoma, Valerie Vandervort, then 29, and a life-long cystic fibrosis sufferer whose ravaged lungs had reduced her to a frail 86 pounds, rested in a hospital bed waiting for new organs that would save her life. When she learned that donor lungs had become available, she knew that they had come in the nick of time. In the six years since Valerie's double lung transplant, she's run three 5K races, won medals in swimming at the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games, hiked up and down a mountain, danced at her sister's wedding and witnessed the births of her nieces and nephews, "the joys of her life."

A few towns away in Chesterfield, Missouri, Judy Kaufman, awaited a new heart after suffering for years with congestive heart failure. When she awoke from surgery, she seemed to know that someone in the hospital had received lungs from the same donor, possibly the result of her overhearing an operating room conversation. Judy insisted on meeting Valerie, the other recipient, and they stayed in touch when they both went home to recover.

About six months following the transplant, Valerie heard from Stacey Oglesby. A correspondence ensued and soon, they met in a park and shared photo albums. Valerie showed her donor's mom details of her life while she learned about a young girl's world that had been halted before it had a chance to really begin. Valerie marveled at the things that they had in common, including a love of the color purple, a passion for dancing and photography and dreams of work as cosmetologist.

Valerie also told Stacey about Judy, and soon they made contact, talking like they'd known each other all their lives and making plans to meet. A gathering took place to which Stacey brought a stethoscope, to place on Judy's chest to finally hear once more the beat of her daughter's heart.

Since their transplants, Valerie and Judy have attended the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games where they have competed for medals in track and field and swimming competitions and coined names for each other, "heart sis" and "lung sis."

(l-r) Judy with Kevin and Stacey Oglesby

But, up until now, the Games have been incomplete because they have not included the most important part of both of their stories - the Oglesby family. This year, Valerie and Judy called Stacey and implored her and her husband to attend. Judy, Valerie and the Oglesby family all gathered in Madison, Wisconsin for an unforgettable experience.

The Oglesbys cheered for Valerie and Judy as they competed and won medals, with their daughter's heart and lungs—a bronze in the 50 yard backstroke event for Valerie and a silver in the softball throw for Judy. The two recipients joined the Oglesbys at a special quilt-pinning ceremony where they pinned a square on the National Donor Family Quilt in memory of Colbey. Says Valerie, who swam with a bathing cap that broadcast her gratitude, "The Transplant Games are my way of showing them that I am taking the best possible care of their gift --my lungs."