Local businessman Matt Schellenberg, 57, still gets emotional every time he recalls that February day 10 years ago when his beeper went off.
That beeper, mind you, was no ordinary beeper. It was a signal for hope for a better tomorrow, a second chance at life because at the other end of that beeper, was a liver that Matt so desperately needed.
"I remember exactly the day the beeper went off," said Schellenberg.
"My wife and daughter were ou,t and I was home with my son, Andrew, who was 12 at the time. My mind was racing with all the emotions and the thought of a better quality of life and then Andrew asked me a heart-wrenching question: Could I die from this? I sat him down and told him not to worry, that I was in God's hands."
A devout Catholic, Schellenberg still believes he's in God's hands, as he recalled his journey.
"I was put on the transplant waiting list, but I was on so many people's prayer list, too," said Schellenberg. "I'm very blessed. It all began early 1990s, when I volunteered to give blood during my church's blood drive," said Schellenberg. "Soon after, I was contacted by the blood alliance that my liver profiles were high and didn't look normal. I contacted a physician friend of mine who ran more blood tests and sent me to a specialist. After many more blood tests and liver biopsies, I was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis. The physician at Mayo Clinic Florida stated I would need a new liver in five to 10 years and he was right."
With declining health throughout the 1990s, Schellenberg said he and his physicians discussed the need for a transplant in late 1999. In January 2000, he was given a beeper and put on a waiting list for a liver transplant. Approximately 30 days later, he was at Mayo Clinic Florida with a new liver.
Today, Schellenberg, who is one of 11 children, truly lives his life to the fullest - active, healthy and competive.
He recently returned from competing in his second U.S. Transplant Games sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation and held this year in Madison, Wis., where he won four gold medals in swimming and set two national records.
Participants in the Olympic-style games include recipients of life-saving organ transplants of every type: kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas and bone marrow. Athletes include organ transplant recipients, organ donors and their families, who compete for gold, silver and bronze medals in 12 different sports.
This year's four-day event marked the 20th anniversary, drew thousands of participants and included veteran actor and organ recipient Larry Hagman.
"These games are a wonderful opportunity for people to gather and really celebrate life," said Schellenberg who said he's been training since last fall. "It's very emotional to see families of donors come to support organ recipients. There's a real camaraderie among the participants because we all have something in common."
Schellenberg said the games showcase the importance of organ donation and the life-saving difference it can make.
"You learn to appreciate life more, and you don't let the little annoying things bother you," said Schellenberg. "I'm grateful for the incredible support from my family, friends and all those who prayed for me.
"I still get very emotional, but it's good to have a new day of life every day."
Please visit Donate Life Florida to register as an organ,eye and tissue donor