Meet our Team Maryland Athletes: Sharon, Essie, Phil and Olivia

The 2012 Transplant Games of America are finally here! From July 27th – August 1st, Team Maryland, comprised of twenty-nine transplant recipients, living donors, and donor family members will travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan to represent Maryland as they compete in Olympic-style events. Like the Team Maryland Facebook page to stay updated on their progress at the games.

Between now and July 27th, we will be posting bios of some of our Team Maryland athletes. We hope you enjoy getting to know them a little better!

Name:  Sharon Verfaillie
Hometown: Bel Air, MD
2012 Transplant Games Event(s):

  • Team supporter – Donor Family

Participant Facts:
Tragically, on July 29, 2007, just three months before his 19th birthday, Sharon’s son, Jason, was fatally injured in an automobile accident. Sharon and her family supported his wish to be a donor and ensured that he left this world the same way he lived it: giving the gift of life. He saved the lives of five strangers by donating his heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and pancreas.

“Jason chose organ donation when he obtained his driver’s license, and I work in the medical field so I was proud that he had chosen this. I never dreamed it would be a blessing in disguise,” says Sharon of her son’s decision to be an organ and tissue donor.  “Jason’s organs, corneas, and saphenous veins were used to make an impact on someone’s life, along with their families and friends. What a great thing! My son gets to live on in others, and others get to live on because of him.”

Name:  Essie Wilson
Hometown: Fort Washington, MD
2012 Transplant Games Event(s):

  • Bowling (Doubles & Singles)
  • Track and Field – Shot Put, Softball Throw

Participant Facts:
Essie began dialysis at age 33, going three times a week. Although she continued to work full-time, she realized she was missing out on many activities she used to enjoy so much, such as family get-togethers. Essie decided to be evaluated for transplant so she could resume a more normal life. Luckily, within a year of being listed for a kidney transplant, she received the call letting her know a kidney became available.  Upon waking up after her surgery, she felt better than she had in quite a while. When she realized she didn’t have to be on dialysis any more, she burst into tears of joy.
Twenty years later, Essie’s transplanted kidney began to fail and her doctor put her back on the transplant list.  Within six months, she underwent a second kidney transplant and has been healthy ever since!

This will be Essie’s 7th time as a Transplant Games participant.

Name:  Phil Cioffioni
Hometown: Towson, MD
2012 Transplant Games Event(s):

  • Basketball
  • Table tennis
  • Badminton
  • Volleyball
  • Tennis Doubles

Participant Facts:
In 2005, after being treated for polycystic kidney disease and high blood pressure for more than 16 years, Phil’s doctors told him he would need a kidney transplant.  Phil was lucky; five of his family members came forward and were tested to see if they matched for living kidney donation. Phil’s older brother turned out to match the best, and one year later, in 2006, they went into surgery.

Post transplant, Phil is just as active as he was before. In 2008, Phil competed in his first U.S. Transplant Games in Pittsburgh sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation.  He tested his abilities in racquetball, table tennis, badminton and tennis.

Name:  Olivia Strama
Hometown: Parkville, MD
2012 Transplant Games:

  • Track & Field – 25M Run
  • Track & Field – Shotput
  • Track & Field – Softball Throw
  • Bowling

Participant Facts:
After she broke out in a rash and started having trouble breathing one day, four-month-old Olivia Strama was rushed to the hospital. Upon being examined and transferred to University of Maryland Medical Center, Amanda and Alex Strama, Olivia’s parents, learned the left side of Olivia’s heart was failing and her only option was a heart transplant.

Olivia was transferred to The Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital to be placed on a machine that would oxygenate and filter her blood, a function her heart and lungs could no longer do on their own. The machine would help keep Olivia alive long enough to receive a heart transplant. On the way to the hospital, Olivia went into cardiac arrest. Her heart stopped beating for two minutes. Doctors were able to revive Olivia’s heart, but her prognosis was not good without a transplant.

Olivia’s unstable condition placed her high on the waiting list. Olivia’s parents, family and friends anxiously sat and hoped for a miracle, and a miracle was what they got. The same night Olivia was placed on the transplant list, a perfect match became available.

Thanks to her heart transplant, Olivia, now five years old, is able to enjoy the things every five-year-old gets to enjoy; and the love and gratitude the Stramas have for Olivia’s heart donor is written all over their faces every time they look at their happy, healthy little girl.

Stay tuned for more Team Maryland athlete/participant bios!

Go Team Maryland!


About Lauren

Lauren Muskauski is the communications associate at The Living Legacy Foundation. She heads up many community outreach initiatives and projects, with a focus on middle school, high school and college outreach. She also manages The LLF’s and Donate Life Maryland’s presence on social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. Lauren’s commitment to donation started early when she registered as an organ, eye and tissue donor at the MVA upon receiving her first drivers’ license, but was then reinforced a few years later when her father passed away while waiting for a liver transplant. Now, she continues to be inspired on a daily basis by the generosity of donors and their families, as well as the gratitude exhibited by every recipient she meets.
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