Medaling in life: Summerlin woman racks up track and field wins in Transplant Games of America after receiving new kidney

Summerlin resident Dinorah Arambula, 53, says she was depressed when she began dialysis in June 2009.

“I thought, ‘Will I be a vegetable? Will my life depend on me being hooked to a machine?’, ” she recalled.

Fast-forward seven years and one kidney transplant later, and she has completed her second Transplant Games of America, taking various field and track medals during the competition in Cleveland in June.

She competed in 14 events, earning 11 medals: gold in the 100-meter, 200, 400 and 800 races, the long and high jumps, darts and cricket; as well as silver in the 1500 , the 1500 race/walk and the 5K.

“It’s not just about the events,” she said. “It’s mostly about paying your respects to our donors. Someone had to die for us (to do this).”

The Transplant Games of America occur every two years to recognize the accomplishments of those who have been touched by organ donation. They are open to transplant recipients as well as living donors.

This year’s Team Nevada included 15 people: seven athletes, one donor family, one participant in the Lyrics for Lifesinging competition, and six supporters. This was Arambula’s second time at the games, the first being in Houston in 2014, winning four gold medals.

Alma Rodriguez, multicultural outreach coordinator for Nevada Donor Network, manages Team Nevada. Before being allowed to take part in the games, organ transplant recipients must wait a year to recover and get a doctor’s permission.

“The games play a huge part in the life of anyone who underwent a life-saving transplant ” she said. “They’re surrounded by others who have experienced the same (kind of ) episode in their life. … There’s so much emotion, so much gratitude.”

As of January, Nevada Donor Network’s numbers showed 888,324 residents statewide registered as organ donors. It is unknown how many recipients there were as, many times, the transplant operations take place out of state.

Arambula’s not resting on her laurels: She’s also participating in the Nevada Senior Games, underway now through Oct. 19. After that, her next goal is to compete in the World Transplant Games in Malaga, Spain next summer.

All this from a woman who had essentially done “nothing athletic” after college. Arambula said she didn’t think her high blood pressure — caused by stress — could lead to bigger issues.

“It’s supposed to be 120 over 80 — mine was more, like, 145 or 150 over 110,” she said.

But after years of failing health, she sought medical help and learned that her kidneys were no longer functioning normally. Her right one, she said, was half the size it was supposed to be.

She was given medications and changed her diet — no sodium, no calcium and less protein — staving off dialysis for 10 years. But then she began experiencing dizziness and nausea, and her doctor determined she had elevated levels of creatinine. So, in June 2009, she began dialysis.

She underwent treatments three times a week at University Medical Center, each one lasting 3 ½ hours. It was painful, and each session required its own recovery period, she said.

One day she was asked if she’d like to go on the transplant list.

“They asked if I was registered as an organ donor,” she said. “I wasn’t. You see, I was not registered because I thought, ‘If I get in a car accident, the doctor will see I’m an organ donor and won’t save my life.’ ”

She was told that wasn’t how things worked, so she signed up. Medical tests ensured she was a good candidate. Arambula was warned it might take five years to be matched with a donor.

Then one night in February 2011, after 20 months of dialysis, her cellphone lit up about midnight. The screen said the call was from UMC.

They had a kidney for her.

She underwent surgery immediately and received a kidney from a male car accident victim.

Given a second chance, Arambula determined to no longer be that person living life on the sidelines. She said she’d always wanted to hike mountains and began with Red Rock Canyon and Mount Charleston.

Meeting others on the trail, she learned of the 52 Peak Club and joined it. It took her 15 months to complete all 52 mountains.

“Every time I reached a peak, I pointed to the sky and went, ‘Yeah, thank you,’ ” she said. “I knew someone was watching me to make sure I made good use of his gift, their kidney.”

She now volunteers her time speaking in the community to urge others to sign up to be organ donors.

For more information on Nevada Donor Network, visit nvdonor.org.

For more on the Transplant Games of America, visit transplantgamesofamerica.org.

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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