Friday the 13th is considered an unlucky day in western cultures. Vince Shavers, a 52-year-old Naperville resident, said he never considered himself to be particularly superstitious, but that all changed during a December blizzard on Friday the 13th in 2013. During a family party, Vince’s brother started to have a seizure. When the ambulance arrived, the paramedics took one look at Vince and started to treat him immediately.

“I was confused,” said Vince. “Other than feeling a little more tired than usual, I felt fine. I’ve always been a healthy guy. I told the paramedics that they had the wrong person. It was my brother we called the ambulance for.”

Vince and another family got into a car and started to follow the ambulance to the hospital. The snow-covered roads made travel difficult and on the way, Vince could feel himself fading fast. By the time they reached the hospital, Vince was in a bad state and his family dropped him off just outside the emergency room and went to park the car.

“The distance from where I was dropped off at the door of the ER was no more than a few feet away, but I felt all my strength drain from me,” said Vince. “On hands and knees, I crawled to get to the doors of the ER. I wouldn’t have made it if a nurse didn’t come out with a wheelchair to pick me up.”

Vince woke in a hospital bed when a doctor told him the news. Vince had narrowly escaped death and was in dire need of kidney transplant. He was placed on immediate dialysis and the search for a kidney donor began.

The Angel Crew

There is no such thing as a good time to experience a health care crisis but, for Vince, the time could not be worse.

“At the time, I was between jobs and had no insurance,” said Vince. “I had been staying with family and, with this new diagnosis, had to lean on them even more.”

Although he knew he was one of the 3,500 people in Illinois waiting for a kidney transplant, Vince tried to maintain hope and live as normal of a life as possible. He decided to attend a high school reunion dinner with several of his oldest and closest friends and shared the news about his need for a kidney donor. Without hesitation, his friend Rachel spoke up and said, “I’ll give you my kidney.”

“I thought she was just joking or being nice, but she was completely serious,” said Vince “She got tested and was found to be a match for me.”

Another friend offered to have him live in her house in Naperville while he recovered. Other friends vied for the opportunity to take Vince to and from dialysis treatments and doctor appointments. Shavers calls his friends his “Angel Crew” and credits his physical, emotional and spiritual health to them.

Overcoming Obstacles

Now three years after his lifesaving kidney transplant, Vince participates in the University of Illinois kidney health program, a specialized workout program that is geared to reduce inflammation and improve the overall health for post-transplant kidney recipients.

“This program has been great for me because it helps me overcome obstacles and helps me become stronger both physically and mentally,” said Vince.

This August, Vince and three of his fellow UI Health workout group members will put that strength to the test at the 2018 Transplant Games of America in Salt Lake City, Utah thanks to a special sponsorship provided by Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network.

The Transplant Games is a multi-sport festival event produced by the Transplant Life Foundation for individuals who have undergone life-saving transplant surgeries. This event is designed to increase awareness to the life-restoring importance of organ, cornea, bone marrow, and tissue donation through the lives of the athlete-recipients and the lasting legacy of their donors.

Vince and a fellow UI Health workout partner and kidney recipient, Monica Fox, will be competing together during the ballroom dancing competition and a 5k at the games. Vince will also be competing in the volleyball and trivia tournaments.

“I’m so grateful to the Gift of Hope for giving me this opportunity to participate in my very first Transplant Games,” said Vince. “Three years ago, I never thought I would be well enough to do something like this. Now, I hope to bring home the gold for Team Illinois, my Angel Crew, for my new UI Health and Gift of Hope families and for every person waiting for a kidney transplant.”

Gift of Hope applauds Vince Shavers and all the courageous athletes participating in the 2018 Transplant Games of America and honors all the donors whose generous gifts of organs and tissue have given new hope to people in need.