Kurt Unterholzner ’82: Transplant Hero
When the gun goes off at the U.S. Transplant Games in Madison this summer, Kurt Unterholzner ’82 will be at the starting line. “The athletes participating in the Transplant Games are taking advantage of their second chance to live life to the fullest,” he says.
He’s in a good position to know. As a UW-Madison student in 1979, Unterholzner was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, and two years later, he received a kidney from his brother. For the past twenty-five years, he has poured his energy into physical fitness to prove to himself and others that transplant recipients can lead full and active lives. Unterholzner has competed in dozens of ski and bicycle races and eight Transplant Games since the biennial winter and summer competitions began in the U.S. in 1990, in addition to two international games. He credits staying fit with helping to offset the side effects of the medication that he takes, which is true for many transplant recipients.
The games have even more personal significance for Unterholzner because he works as an organ- procurement coordinator at UW Hospital and Clinics. “The stories these individuals share, their appreciation for the work we do, and the gratefulness they express to their donor and their donor’s family is incredibly uplifting,” he says.
More than 7,500 attendees, including 1,500 transplant recipients, are expected to participate in the 2010 games, which will take place from July 30 to August 4, contributing an estimated $2.5 million to Madison’s economy. The city was chosen to host the games in part because the event will coincide with the 2010 launch of the Wisconsin Donor Registry, an online portal for individuals to register decisions to become organ, tissue, and/or eye donors. Some 105,000 people in the United States are on waiting lists to receive organ transplants, including 1,500 in Wisconsin alone.
During the games, Unterholzner will do his part to raise awareness by helping to organize several events to recognize organ donors. He plans to compete in several middle-distance track events in addition to the 5K run and the softball throw. He’d also like to run a leg on the 4×400-meter relay, though he’s happy to concede his spot to any younger, faster runner who will make Team Wisconsin more competitive.
“Camaraderie is so much a part of all the Transplant Games I have attended,” Unterholzner says. “It is a reflection of the common experience and bond that we share.”
Karen Graf Roach ’82
Published in the Summer 2010 issue