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Man who received double transplant to compete in Australia

August 21, 2009|By ANDREW MASON

"Kelly 3-20-95."

That's what Mike Butler wrote on the white sweatband he will wear next week when he competes for Team USA at the 17th World Transplant Games in Australia.

"March 20, 1995 -- I'll never forget that date," said Butler, 46, of Hagerstown, who received a kidney-pancreas double transplant on that day at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

"When I first got sick (with acute renal failure), I kept saying that if I got a second chance, I was going to find the person who donated the kidney," he said. "I found that my kidney and pancreas came from someone named Kelly, who flew across the country from Washington state. She died of a brain aneurysm.

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"Kelly is not only my hero, but she's my angel. The most important thing is to live on for Kelly. I carry her spirit with me."

She will be with Butler in Australia when he competes in five track and field events -- the shot put, discus, javelin, long jump and 4-by-200-meter relay.

Butler was one of 85 athletes chosen to represent Team USA after last summer's U.S. Transplant Games in Pittsburgh, where he placed fourth in the discus, fifth in the shot put and sixth in the long jump.

That was his first time competing at nationals, which are held in even-numbered years. This will be his first time competing at worlds, which are held in odd-numbered years.

"When I retired, I decided to go for it," said Butler, who worked for 12 years at the Frederick County (Md.) Sheriff's Office before retiring in 2007.

"A lot of people ask me if the Transplant Games are like the Special Olympics. I don't know what to call it, but it's competitive. These guys go for it," he said. "Just to think how sick these people were at one time and then to see them compete at a high level is just awesome."

Butler, a 1981 South Hagerstown High School graduate, was a standout athlete for the Rebels in football, wrestling, and track and field. He went on to compete in track and field at what then was Hagerstown Junior College, and graduated from there in 1984.

Then, in 1994, he got sick.

"I was on dialysis for about a year -- 3 1/2 hours, three days a week -- and it just sucked the life out of me," Butler said. "But since the transplant, I've never had a bad day. I never use the word 'bad.' When I was lying sick in bed, I used to think I'd give anything to go out there and do it again.

"I got a second chance, and now I'm not going to waste it. I'm not what I used to be, but just to be out there competing again is awesome."

Butler, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds, said he has trained significantly harder for worlds than he did for nationals.

"I'm ready to go," he said. "I feel very confident that I can medal (place in the top three) in the throwing events."

He said his goals are to throw the shot put 35 feet, the discus 110 feet and the javelin 140 feet.

But his No. 1 goal, he said, is "to get the word out -- the word of organ-tissue donations."

"A lot of people don't realize what's going on until they get sick or someone in their family gets sick. You can't take the organs with you after you die," Butler said. "It's everybody's choice, but I want people to know that I go out there and live life to the fullest because I got a second chance."

Butler, who said he will have to pay for about half of the cost of the trip, left on a flight for Australia on Wednesday. The World Transplant Games begin with an opening ceremony today and conclude Aug. 30. All of his competitions will be held Aug. 28 and 29.

For more information about the World Transplant Games, go to www.wtgf.org.

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