Golden reunion for transplant recipient |

Golden reunion for transplant recipient

Steve Yingling

After nearly dying in 1997 after contracting a rare form of liver cancer, Nivia Bryant of South Lake Tahoe can’t find enough ways to thank her donor family.

She found another way last weekend in Columbus, Ohio.

Seventeen months after receiving a liver transplant Bryant won a gold medal in cycling at the three-day U.S. Transplant Olympic Games. Crossing the finish line first in her age group in the 20-kilometer race paled in comparison to the special feeling the 34-year-old Bryant had during the medal ceremony.

“The donor families were the ones giving the recipients their medals, so it was wonderful,” Bryant said. “It’s gives donor families a realization of their gift. Their gift may be out their competing, whether it’s their child’s heart or sister’s kidney, it brings the full circle of transplantation together: the donor and the recipient. We get to thank the donor families and they get to see the success of transplantation.”

Bryant, who teaches English as a second language at George Whittell High School, completed the 20K race in just under 40 minutes to win the 25-35 age group. She was fourth overall in the women’s field of 17 cyclists.

“This is really a blessing to me because I didn’t expect to win anything. I was going there to complete the full circle of recovery, going from very sick over a year ago to being able to compete in something like that,” she said.

Bryant’s life was in danger late in 1996 when her liver started to fail because of cancer. She was immediately placed on a transplant list, and fortunately found a compatible donor 54 days later.

The transplant surgery was performed in February of 1997 at the UC-San Francisco Medical Center and she returned home in March. Two months later she was back at Whittell teaching.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what happens to transplant patients. Are they invalids or are they active? At (UCSFMC) they showed me films that convinced me that I could return to a normal life after the transplant,” she said.

Soon after the transplant Bryant resumed cycling – usually riding seven miles per day three days per week.

“It was a joy to exercise. I cycle here and there and I’m not into competitive races. My cheapest form of medical insurance was my health, so my body wouldn’t reject my liver,” Bryant said.

Bryant and her husband, Dave, plan to return to the next Transplant Games, which are conducted in two-year increments.

“It’s not just for the athletic part of it, but it’s invaluable for the donor families that come and see that their gift wasn’t in vain,” she said.

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