In the span of about a month, Benjamin Ale-Ebrahim went from healthy 15-year-old to needing a new liver to keep from dying.
“I remember my doctors telling me I had a week to live at one point,” the Bloomington resident said in a press release from Donate Life Indiana. “Facing death as a teenager was definitely a scary experience.”
He was lucky. Someone, somewhere had signed an organ donor card that saved his life. That’s why the 28-year-old Indiana University Ph.D. grad and lecturer at the Kelley School of Business decided to participate in this year’s 2022 Transplant Games of America starting Friday in San Diego where he’ll compete in the 20k bike race and bowling. He is one of 18 members on Team Indiana.
The Transplant Games of America is a festival-style event produced by the Transplant Life Foundation for individuals who have undergone lifesaving transplant surgeries. Competition events are open to living donors, organ transplant recipients, and bone marrow, corneal and tissue transplant recipients.
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“I had known about the Transplant games for a while,” Ale-Ebraham said. “I wanted to compete in it and I figured this was a good year to do it.
“The goal is to raise awareness and since I’m personally affected by it, I find it really important. It’s a personal thing to compete in and train for to raise awareness for organ donation.”
A sudden turn
Ale-Ebraham grew up in Wichita, Kansas. After his freshman year of high school in 2009, adventure awaited in Alaska where he went to volunteer for a month on a crew building trails in a national wildlife refuge.
“It was my first time away from home for any length of time,” he said.
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While he was there, he noticed that his skin was starting to change color, which turned out to be the first sign of liver failure. Further examination revealed he had a rare genetic disorder called Wilson’s disease, where excess copper is stored in various body parts, including the liver.
In short order, he was put on a transplant list. A week later, he got the call that a new life was waiting for him.
“I didn’t have to wait long,” Ale-Ebraham said. “I recovered, with a lot of support from my teachers and friends and family. I missed the first part of my sophomore year, but it all worked out in the end.”
Ale-Ebraham ended up at IU to gain his PhD in anthropology and will begin working full time for the university this fall.
Off to San Diego
Ale-Ebraham will have his aunt, Marci Tillison, who lives in San Diego, on hand to cheer him on. The event will include more than 40 US teams and a handful of international teams in 20 medal competitions and more than 60 special events.
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As for his own sports history following his health scare, Ale-Ebraham was on a college rowing team for a semester, but that was it. Like a lot of people, he began exercising more when the COVID pandemic hit.
“It was something to cope with the lockdowns,” Ale-Ebraham said. “So I have just a couple of years of training. I ride my bike back and forth to campus. I’ve never competed in a race before. I’ve been training for several months, but this will be my first time.”
The games, after all, are less about the competitive results and more a celebration of life and second chances, including that for a once 15-year-old boy who once helplessly saw his life slipping away and was saved.
With stories like that in mind, the 2022 Transplant Games of America will kick off with an opening ceremony that honors competitors’ donor heroes and will include transplant recipients, living donors and their families walking in a parade.
Donate Life Indiana manages Team Indiana, which includes assisting with fundraising efforts focused on generating the money needed to send team members to the competition. Their overall goal, as is Ale-Ebraham’s, is to raise awareness about organ donation and sign up more Hoosiers as organ donors.
To sign up as an organ donor or to donate to their educational efforts, visit www.donatelifeindiana.org.