Nikki McKenna had always been an active teenager, playing tennis, softball and participating in cheerleading, but kidney failure and dialysis treatments three times a week for three years greatly diminished her strength. Nikki's life changed completely when she received a new kidney in 1998- a gift from her father, Bernie Redlinger.
"I have always been very close to my father, so Father's Day has always been a special day," said Nikki. "However, when the transplant happened, it made every day like Father's Day for me. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about what my dad has done for me. He's my hero. We always celebrate by having a family picnic but as long as we are together on Father's Day, that's all that matters!"
Nikki's organizational skills came in handy in 2006, when she was planning her wedding and honeymoon and simultaneously training for the volleyball competition at the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games. Nikki rescheduled her wedding for the chance to win gold at the Games - a special gift for her dad.
"After the transplant, I just felt like a new person, and the Transplant Games gave me and the other athletes a chance to prove to everyone that we are healthy, strong and actively celebrating life," says Nikki, who joined Team Pittsburgh in 2000.
That enthusiasm is going to take Nikki to the 2008 U.S. Transplant Games, to be held July 11-16 in her hometown of Pittsburgh. She will be competing in tennis, basketball and volleyball events as she celebrates her second chance at life with 6,000 other transplant athletes, living donors and donor families.
"The Games are a way for transplant recipients to say thank you to the living donors and donor families who gave us a second chance in life, so I wouldn't miss it for the world," Nikki said.
"I'm celebrating my 10th transplant anniversary this year so the Games will be a mile marker that makes it even more special for me. I can't wait to see the many people that I have met at previous Games, because they are all miracles… plain and simple," Nikki said.