ROCKY RIVER, OH (WOIO) - There's a lot of excitement building with the Summer Transplant Games coming to Cleveland this year.
One Rocky River family with quite a story to tell about their journey to the big event, and perfect time to tell their story too as it ties in with Autism Awareness month. It's all about 11-year-old Paul Witzigreuter, his struggles, his spirit and his smile that says so much.
"He's come a long ways...a long ways," his dad, Dan says, "...he's strong medically. It's just awesome to see."
Only a week after Paul was born, Dan and his wife, Amy learned he was very sick. His kidneys and liver were diseased and threatened his life.
"We were shocked because it was a totally normal pregnancy," Amy says, "...it wasn't long after we realized we just had to figure things out and get some answers and help him."
The bad news: organ donation was the only option. But the good news was Amy and Dan were the perfect matches for living donation. With Paul's older brother and sister along for the journey, it would begin with Amy giving a piece of her liver when Paul was only 8 months old -- just big enough to accept it.
"We just wanted to get that liver out of his body and restore his health," Amy said. "He was really sick, he was really vulnerable."
It would be tough recovery for their baby, they explained, but ultimately a success. Next up was Dan, giving a kidney to Paul just a couple years ago. He explains with a big smile,
"It did feel good I was going to have the same feeling Amy had, saving his life a second time," he recalled. "I was very excited to help."
They would have another success. Between surgeries though, Paul was also diagnosed with autism. When he jumps on that treadmill in the basement, places his iPad in front of him and logs the miles, all you see is a strong, happy, determined pre-teen. Paul is training for the 5K in the Transplant Games coming to Cleveland this summer. While he might not be able to articulate his gratitude or whether he even understands the gifts of life he's been given, just being the happy, healthy guy does the job and then some for his donors -- his own parents.
To that, Dan says "Yeah, I get to see it everyday." Amy fights back tears, adding, "That it was even a possibility was a gift and I think we were really fortunate."
Amy says she was always a registered donor and figured someday she'd help someone. She never imagined it would be her own child though. Dan admits he didn't even know much about organ donation at all before Paul was born. Both now doing all they can to encourage others to consider donation as they get their whole family geared up to take part in the Transplant Games taking place in Cleveland this July.
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