the recipe for gold

Debbie Greenberg will be training at the gym and track for the next few weeks in anticipation of defending her titles in both the 200- and 400-meter runs. Greenberg won both gold medals at the 2006 Transplant Games, which is sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation, less than two years after she underwent heart transplant surgery.
After years of denying the seriousness of her heart defect, Greenberg’s doctor said she would die unless her heart was replaced. Now, less than four years after the procedure, and only after winning at the Olympic-style U.S. Transplant Games, Greenberg said she felt like she was given a second chance at life.
“It’s a whole new world for me,” she said. “I’ve only had a healthy body for the last three years out of 53.”
The 53-year-old Bayside resident was born with a heart muscle disease called Idiopathic Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which chokes the four chambers of the heart, Greenberg said. Patients with this disorder have hearts that were not developed properly, and they become stiff and hard, she said, which makes it difficult for the organ to pump blood properly.
Since her diagnosis 18 years ago, Greenberg struggled to understand the severity of her condition, she said, because she still took care of her two sons and worked as a social worker at a nursery school. But after years of feeling exhausted, her condition worsened to the point that she needed a transplant. At the end of 2004 and after only three months on the transplant list, doctors told Greenberg they found her a new heart.
“The first three months I wasn’t even sure if I did the right thing,” she said about the time after the surgery. “I was in bad shape. Your body gets bad really quickly while lying in bed.” Her physical therapist recommended the use of a treadmill.
“I started pushing myself to be on the treadmill more and more,” Greenberg said, “as a way of trying to find myself again; it’s like being reborn. I didn’t know what to expect.” The treadmill served as a means for her to gain independence. She refused to let her husband or kids help and she started working from home part-time.
Another heart transplant recipient told Greenberg that she ran competitively, which inspired her to do the same. Greenberg joined Team Liberty, a team of New York and New Jersey transplant recipients who train for the Transplant Games. “I started running on the treadmill, then I transitioned to the track January 2006,” she said.
Later that year, she won the races.
“It was really an amazing feeling to set a goal and actually do it,” Greenberg said. “To feel your body healthy like that, I really didn’t realize how sick I was. You sort of take it in stride that you feel okay, until you don’t.”
Team Liberty’s Donor Family Liaison, Peter Kupczak, said that Greenberg has been a dedicated member of the team and to the cause of promoting organ donations. “She’s a wonderful person,” said Kupczak. His daughter, a Queens resident, died in 2002, and she donated multiple organs (not to Greenberg). “My daughter’s gift gave hope to many people. Debbie is certainly a result of that.”
Greenberg will be headed to Pittsburgh, PA, on July 12 to once again challenge herself in the 200- and 400-meter runs, but she said that winning is not her goal. After her victory in 2006 she learned the real meaning of the Transplant Games. “It’s about celebrating life,” she said. “You’re with donor families, and you hope that you can help them heal by seeing that you’ve made the most of the gift they gave you.”
If you are interested in information on organ donation, check out organdonor.gov or call the New York State Organ and Tissue Donor Registry at 1-866-NYDONOR.

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