Breaking News
More () »

'It's not the same': Organ donor's mother attends the 2020 Transplant Games virtually

Kathleen Vogelsang has attended every games since 2012.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Every other year, athletes who have received or donated an organ gather to compete in the Transplant Games. The 2020 games were originally slated for New Jersey, but the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the competitions and ceremonies back a year and forced everything virtual.

A local family has attended each Transplant Games since 2012. Kathleen Vogelsang lost her daughter Rebecca in a car accident in 2008, and heard about the 2012 games late, missing the opening ceremonies and donor tribute.

“We didn’t know about any of this," Vogelsang says about the games, which were hosted in 2012 by Grand Valley State University. "We just saw they needed volunteers and showed up.”

Two years later, Vogelsang and her husband traveled to Houston to attend the 2014 games, but she almost backed out.

“I was very nervous," she remembers. "I didn’t know if I really wanted to do it, how emotional it was going to be, was it going to just be awful?”

Her biggest worry was that it would feel like her daughter's funeral all over again. Thankfully, once they arrived in Texas, it turned out to be the exact opposite.

“It was cathartic," she says with a smile. "It was great to let it out and be with people that love me, that understand.”

Some of her closest friends have come from connections strengthened by the games. Vogelsang calls it the "club nobody wants to be a part of," but having people who can relate to her experience has made a world of difference.

“Being able to talk to each other, and lean on each other and support each other has been huge.”

The atmosphere of the opening ceremonies is electric. Without everyone being together in person for this year's games, Vogelsang says it's just not the same.

“The whole point is to have each other," she says. "When you can't have that I think you lose a little bit.”

Next year's games are set to take place in San Diego, and Vogelsang is already looking forward to attending. She hopes telling her family's story and the story of other donor families will encourage others to become organ donors.

“She saved all those lives," Kathleen says. "For us to make a tragedy like that have some meaning to it is so important. That’s why organ donation has been so important to me.”  

Related video:

Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.

Have a news tip? Email news@13onyourside.com, visit our Facebook page or Twitter. Subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Before You Leave, Check This Out