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Transplant Games of America Celebrate Stories of Resiliency and Courage


Mallory Wright doesn't tell the story often — it's almost too crazy to believe. But even if it sounds preposterous to say out loud, she knows she did it for a good reason, she's proud she did it, and she got so many opportunities because of it.

So here it is: Less than one week after 20-year-old Mallory donated a kidney to her brother Andy Wahlstrom and just one day after returning home from the hospital in the midst of an excruciating recovery, she competed and won the Miss Kaysville pageant.

"I remember thinking if I could just stand long enough to do the interview — and I was really struggling — but if I could just stand for a short time for the interview, at least I could say I tried," said Mallory who is now a harp teacher and mother of three – soon to be four.

She was in significant pain, she couldn't keep down food, her incisions were leaking, and she could barely cross the stage in her evening gown. Fortunately, she had a sit-down talent to perform: the harp. As the crown was placed on her head, she leaned against her runners-up for support. She needed to get back to bed soon.

Mallory has never been one to compete in pageants, but she wanted to spread the word about the importance of organ donation, and the pageant was a way to have a platform. Sure enough, she went on to compete in Miss Utah, touting her favorite cause, and she had the opportunity to travel throughout Utah sharing her story.

At one point, she wasn't such a staunch advocate.

"On my 16-year-old driver's license, I said 'no' to organ donation," Mallory remembered. She just didn't like the idea of it.

But then her older brother Andy got sick with IgA nephropathy. His kidneys failed and he needed dialysis for months. Mallory was convinced she was meant to donate a kidney to him. As the youngest member of the family, everyone tried to talk her out of it. Surely, one of the older siblings who weren't in college should be the donor, they said. But Mallory insisted, and her family relented. Soon the medical testing came back: She was a perfect match, and she went forward with the donation. The siblings were treated by the transplant specialists at University of Utah Health.

After the operations, Andy's health was restored faster than she ever thought possible, and Mallory became an even bigger believer in organ donation than she was the day she dragged herself across the pageant stage.

"She's stepped up to the plate, and forever I will love her," said Andy, a teacher and tennis coach at Davis High School. "Every anniversary date, I celebrate with my sister. I take her out. We've done it ever since — for nine years."

Today, he's a healthy, active 39-year-old who runs, bikes, swims and skis. He'll soon have a chance to put his athleticism to the test when he participates in the 2018 Donate Life Transplant Games. The international event will be held in Salt Lake City on August 2-7. The Opening Ceremony, which is set for August 3 at Smith's Ballpark, is free the public. The Games are an inspiring, one-of-a-kind event in which transplant recipients and donors compete in a wide range of sports, and the families of deceased donors are honored.

"It's one of those things that you can't really describe unless you've been there," said Michelle McCardell, executive director of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee that is planning, organizing and overseeing the event. "Every single person has a story to tell. It's kind of amazing."

Andy plans to compete in as many events he can fit in, including track and field, cycling, and team sports. Mallory is disappointed that she won't be able to participate in much. She'll be nine months pregnant and will have to stick to cornhole and other low-exertion competitions.

The Salt Lake City Transplant Games will mark the second time Andy has competed in the Olympics-like contests. He also participated when they were held in Cleveland in 2016.

"The events themselves are fun competition but being able to visit and meet with the other recipients, donors and families of deceased donors is what makes it special," Andy said. "All of our stories are unique in some way, but we share a lot of the experiences too."