Columbus couple wins bronze at World Transplant Game

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A Columbus couple brought together by fate are now inspiring other organ transplant survivors, hoping to also encourage people to become an organ donor after taking the trip of a lifetime they thought may never happen.

“Seventeen years later and I’m doing things I could only dream about when I was sick,” Marshall Peterson who received a kidney transplant 17 years ago, said.

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Peterson and Stephanie West have taken different paths to the same place. She also received a kidney transplant in 2019.

“Some people like Stephanie had to wait for years for a transplant, some people wait even longer,” Peterson said. “It’s like you said, like your life is kind of on hold when you’re sick.”

West found out she had kidney disease while she was studying to be a healthcare professional.

“Within a year and a half, I went into failure,” she said. “I basically got a call from my doctor at like 7 at night going, ‘Your labs are really bad. You need to go to the E.R. I’ll meet you there.’ And within a week, they had put everything in so that I could start dialysis.”

For West, the whole experience was a game of waiting. She was on the transplant list in Georgia where she lived at the time.

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“It’s hard to sit there every day and wait and not know,” she said. “Your life almost feels like it’s been put on hold. I actually cried several days before I got the call, thinking this is just never going to happen. And so it was nice having someone that you could just call and say, ‘This is what I’m going through’ and actually understands the fears.”

Peterson and West met a year before her transplant while at a sci-fi convention in Atlanta, Georgia. They shared lots of interests, but they also shared the struggle of living life with kidney disease.

Peterson’s transplant experience was different. His father was a match and donated a kidney when Peterson was in his 20s.

“It’s like going from seeing in black and white to seeing in color,” he said. “Like, I had the most pain I’ve ever experienced in my life after the surgery. But at the same time, the best I’d ever felt. At the same time.”

After they both received kidney transplants, they wanted to live life to the fullest.

“We’re going to make the most out of this second chance at life,” Peterson said.

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He was always competitive and loved soccer but had not been able to play since getting sick at the age of 11. He did remember a scene from the 1965 movie “Help!” starring the Beatles.

“They’re actually playing on a pond at one point,” Peterson said. “I remember asking my dad, ‘What is this weird game? I am fascinated by it.’ And he’s like, ‘That’s curling.’

Peterson then decided to check out the Columbus Curling Club where he started to learn the game.

“It’s a lot harder than people realize,” he said.

One of the very first dates Peterson and West went on was to a curling club.

Prior to her diagnosis, West was an avid traveler. She wanted to be able to live her life and travel once again after receiving her kidney transplant. Between her love for travel and Peterson’s love of competition, they were inspired. They did a little research and found they needed a team of four to participate in the World Transplant Games in Bormio, Italy.

Peterson’s father, an organ donor, qualified to be a member of the team so he picked up a broom and started curling. Organ donors made up a number of participants at the Games and earned special recognition.

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“Without them, a lot of us wouldn’t be here, and to try to encourage people to check that box on your driver’s license to be able to donate because there are thousands of people waiting, and unfortunately, not everyone gets one,” West said.

After Peterson posted on a regional Midwest curling Facebook page, they found a fourth willing to join the team and travel to Italy for the games.

“It was super awesome,” Peterson said. “Like to play against people who’ve been through the same thing you have like the Canadian team, like one of their guys. He had a double lung transplant and the British skip, she had had a heart transplant and then like several other kidney transplants.”

The group traveled to Europe at the end of February, a week before the games. They traveled across Italy to Venice, Florence, and Milan before making the trek to the mountain town of Bormio.

The American foursome their first matchup in competition against a team from Great Britain. After that, they faced the defending gold medalists from Team Canada.

They played the match of their lives and dominated the Canadians to move into the semi-finals. They lost in heartbreaking fashion to another team from Great Britain, leaving the stone just an inch away from potential victory.

In the end, the U.S. team earned the bronze medal, an incredible accomplishment for a team that didn’t have more than five years of experience curling between three of the competitors.

But it was being with others who could relate to their journey that made the trip even more special.

“Seeing so many people in the room that have all gone through the same journey and can give you a look at the future was absolutely amazing and heartwarming,” West said.

“We went to medal ceremonies every night and like, just watching the happiness on people,” Peterson said. “Like, yeah, they want a medal, but also, like, they’re healthy enough to win a medal, right? Like it was a bit emotional at times.”

After the competition, Peterson still had one more highlight up his sleeve for the trip. He took West and his father to the top of a mountain peak, dropped to one knee, and asked West to marry him.

“I couldn’t think of a more amazing moment to do it,” Peterson said. “Not only like, are you on top of the world, on top of that mountain, we’re surrounded by people who’ve been through what we went through.”

“I think they said that was the first engagement at the games, setting new milestones,” West added.

The couple is coming home engaged, with a bronze medal around their necks. They are sure to carry it with them everywhere, too, a token of how far they’ve come and how proud they are to have overcome deadly disease.

“Life goes on,” Peterson said. “Tomorrow’s coming, whether you’re ready for it or not.

“Take advantage of every minute that you can do something,” West added.

Now, they have their eyes set on Switzerland in 2026 for the next World Transplant Games.

For more information about becoming an organ donor, you can visit Lifeline of Ohio.

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