Life and love celebrated at upcoming Transplant Games - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Life and love celebrated at upcoming Transplant Games

Rick and Debbie Johnson. (Source: WOIO) Rick and Debbie Johnson. (Source: WOIO)
CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -

So many here in Cleveland are gearing up for the Transplant Games of America coming to town in just a few weeks. With that, of course, the first thing you think about is the gift of life.  Well, how about thinking love, as in romance coming out of the games?

That’s exactly why they are especially meaningful to one local couple, Rick and Debbie Johnson. He is a 33-year kidney transplant survivor who laughs about it saying “kind of romantic as it is.”  She is the executive director of Eversight Ohio and adds, “I think it’s pretty neat.”  They love their own love story and who wouldn’t especially those who are close to organ transplant.

They are both from Ohio, but met in Amsterdam, Holland, at the airport as they were arriving for the Transplant Games about to take place there back in 1984. He was there to compete. She was there for her work with organ transplantation.

It would be her who noticed him at the airport when she recognized him from a recent documentary done on survival stories like his. 

“I went up to him and said gee,” she smiles, “I saw you in the film and he had not even see it yet so after that he just sort of followed me around."

“Amsterdam, Holland, is the flower capital of the world so wherever there were flowers, I got some and gave them to Debbie all the time," he recalls.

It would turn into a serious romance when they got back to Ohio. Three years later, they got married. A few years after that they had their two kids and mixed in along the way of course, a few more transplant games.

“How blessed I was because had that not happened, had the transplant not happened, I wouldn't have met my wife,” Rick remarks. 

"Its just been a great thing," Debbie says. "We’re still here and we're still going strong."  

Also still going strong is Rick’s health -- he would medal a couple of times in the Transplant Games they attended -- as is Debbie’s lifelong commitment to organ donation.

Rick will be competing in the Cleveland games too, says he wouldn’t miss the chance, but he’s switching things up a bit. Instead of basketball and track events, it’ll be bocce, poker and corn hole.

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