Sean Clegg’s legacy remembered through Transplant Games
He continues to live on through six individuals who have the Clegg family to thank.
By LINDSEY NOLEN
When it came to the life of her happy, healthy, smart and athletic 14-year-old son, one Tabernacle mother never expected to have to decide whether or not to donate his organs. However, on Aug. 25, 2008, Gail Clegg’s worst nightmare became reality when a car struck and killed her son, Sean, just nine days before his 15th birthday.
During the tragic hours immediately following the accident, the Clegg family was informed their son would not make it, at which point they were faced with an important decision — whether to donate Sean’s organs. With less than 1 percent of the population eligible to donate organs, when Sean’s were pronounced viable the family was able to make the only decision they felt was right: to donate.
“Donating helps the donor family as much as the recipients and helps make something wonderful out of a tragedy,” Clegg said. “It’s not like we had the choice of whether or not [Sean] was coming home, so the choosing to help other people was the only one we could make.”
Eight years later, Sean continues to live on through six individuals who have the Clegg family to thank, not only for their decision, but also for saving their lives as a result. Out of these recipients, one received Sean’s heart, while others were given his kidneys, lungs, pancreas and liver. Additionally, his corneas are currently in Egypt helping to restore sight to two people, and 92 of his tissues continue to assist with numerous medical treatments ranging from spinal transfusions to ACL repairs.
To pay remembrance to Sean, and to celebrate all the positives that have stemmed from such negative circumstances, this year Clegg traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, alongside Sean’s kidney recipient, Melissa Coleman, to participate in the biennial 2016 Donate Life Transplant Games of America.
Taking place from June 10 to the 15, 93 transplant recipients and living donors, and the 26 donor families from the eastern half of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware participated in the Games as part of Team Philadelphia 2016 alongside Clegg and Coleman. This was the pair’s second experience attending the games. Their first trip dates back to the 2010 Transplant Games held in Madison, Wisc.
“It’s a great chance to get to meet new people including other donor families who lost loved ones and to see what good comes from the transplant,” Clegg said.
Although donor families cannot participate in the actual games, Clegg watched and supported Coleman as she competed in both softball and volleyball. Although she was not able to win a medal this year, Clegg recalls her son’s kidney recipient was still incredibly happy just to be there.
“Quite honestly, participants get so much excitement out of the other events going on like the donor family remembrance ceremony — it’s really wonderful,” Clegg said. “It’s always very emotional for me.”
While sporting activities are a clear focus at this event, participants are also able to partake in less strenuous activities such as darts, singing contests, games of Texas Hold ’Em and workshops. Speeches, stories and music all help to remember and honor the loved ones who have passed, and posters with their pictures hung all around this year’s event. Unfortunately, due to costs, posters will no longer be made for the event in the future, so Clegg was able to take Sean’s poster home with her this year.
“They also bring live butterflies in for the donor families to release with the theory being that if you say a little prayer the butterfly will fly away to meet your loved one and deliver the message in heaven,” Clegg said. “I said ‘Thanks for watching over us’ because he does every day.”
Overall, the transplant games present a great opportunity to highlight the success of transplantation and draw attention to the critical shortage of organ and tissue donors in the tri-state region. Clegg intends on attending the next Transplant Games in two years with her husband, Andrew, transplant recipient, Melissa, and could potentially with more of Sean’s organ recipients who she still maintains close relationships with.
To date, Sean’s heart recipient went on to have three babies whom Clegg considers to be her grandchildren. Clegg’s son, Brian, who was just 16 months younger than Sean, is a godfather to one of these children.
Additionally, one of Sean’s lungs went to a man whom Clegg sees several times a year and who participates in talks at high schools with her regarding the importance of organ donation. Two of the other recipients do not speak English, but Clegg works with translators at least once a year to ensure they are still doing well.
“It makes me feel amazing and grateful that Sean gets to live on and help other people. They consider him a hero, and what more could you ask for,” Clegg said.