Brendan Elam, a junior music education major from Kearney, Missouri, received six gold medals and a pair of bronze awards at the Transplant Games of America held July 29 to Aug. 3 in San Diego.
“Brendan is a gifted singer and Glenn Korff School of Music citizen who courageously uses his life experiences to make the world better,” said Jamie Reimer Seaman, associate professor of voice. “He is a wonderful ambassador for the music education and transplant communities.”
Every two years, the Transplant Games of America gathers thousands of transplant recipients, living donors, donor families, individuals on the waiting list, caregivers, transplant professionals, supporters and spectators for the world’s largest celebration of life. The games feature 40 state teams and several international teams made up of transplant recipients and living donors who compete in 20 athletic and recreational competitions to raise awareness for organ donation.
Elam competed with Team Mo-Kan representing western Missouri and Kansas. He medaled in five track and field events, as well as a 5K run, basketball and poker. This was the fourth time he participated in the games.
“I like to participate in these games because one, it’s really refreshing,” Elam said. “I have lots of people around me that support me and know what’s going on with me, but it’s really refreshing to go and know people that have gone through the same things, especially people my page, because I’m pretty young to have this stuff happen to me. It’s also a really grounding experience for me to go there and honor my donor family as much as I can and talk to other donor families just to let them know how thankful all recipients are.”
Elam has an inherited condition called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which raises the risk for lung and liver disease.
“What happened was the proteins in my liver were not going where they knew to go,” Elam said. “And eventually around the age of 6 or 7, we kind of figured out that I would need a liver transplant eventually. I didn’t know what that meant.”
He had the liver transplant in 2012 at the age of 10 around Christmastime.
“I’ve been very, very healthy ever since, which I’m very, very thankful for,” he said. “I learned recently that only 5 percent of the people with my disease have to get a transplant, so that’s really interesting.”
His donor family remains anonymous.
“I think I’m going to be writing a letter pretty soon to see if we can maybe get contact, but so far, I’ve not been able to get contact,” he said.
He appreciates the opportunity that the games provide to bring awareness to organ donation.
“I definitely do want people to be aware of how important it is just to be a registered donor on your driver’s license,” he said. “It can save lots of people. I was saved because of organ donation, and I feel like I’ve been able to do and experience a lot of amazing things because of it. Anyone that is an organ donor, I believe, can save up to eight lives, which is an incredible thing.”
Those experiences include studying music education in the Glenn Korff School of Music, where he has participated in University Singers and Big Red Singers. He is also a member of the campus a cappella group Bathtub Dogs. This summer he had the opportunity to travel to France, where the University Singers and Chamber Singers participated in a choral tour.
“Paris was cool, but actually the smaller cities in France were definitely the highlights,” he said. “My favorite location on the trip was Normandy. I’m not a big history person, but I really enjoyed seeing the American cemetery there. I thought it was really impactful and really interesting to see that American history just all out right in front of you and knowing how big that is in the grand scheme of things.”
Elam said his organ transplant has impacted him by ensuring he doesn’t take anything in life for granted.
“I’m quite literally on my second chance at life already, and I’m only 20,” he said. “I really try and just do everything to the best of my ability. I don’t back down very easily from things, even if it’s complicated. And I’ve had my share of complicated things in the School of Music. But it really just motivates me to just give 110 percent because I know that I’m carrying on someone else’s legacy with me.”