Friday, November 12, 2004

RICHMOND — When Len Geiger races, he moves on legs that were never meant to move again and breathes through lungs that were never meant to breathe again.

And when the double-lung transplant recipient powers through his first marathon today, he says he will be joined not only by the father of his donor, but by the spirit of the Virginia girl whose own death spared his life.

In 2002, Mr. Geiger was near death, suffering from a severe case of genetic emphysema. The 45-year-old Gainesville, Ga., man’s lungs were barely functioning and his hip bones had deteriorated from his steroid medication, requiring a total hip replacement.

At the same time, Kevin Shroyer’s once-vivacious 14-year-old daughter, Korinne, lay in a hospital, about to die from what Mr. Shroyer said was a Paxil-induced suicide.

The government has warned that the antidepressant may be linked to an increased risk of suicide in children.

Mr. Shroyer and his wife, Kristie, overwhelmed with grief, drew on their faith and decided to have Korinne’s organs donated. Her lungs went to Mr. Geiger, saving his life.

A year went by while Mr. Shroyer, 44, of Lynchburg, grieved for the daughter who also had been his best friend. Meanwhile, Mr. Geiger’s health quickly improved, and he got back to riding his bicycle.

Soon after, though, Mr. Geiger faced yet another setback. He took a hard fall off the bike, shattering his left thigh bone. After surgery, he went into respiratory failure and then slipped into a drug-induced coma. Three weeks later, he awoke only to be told he might never be able to use his leg again.

But Mr. Geiger pushed his body and by the summer of 2003 was able to complete a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) race in Atlanta.

During this time, the Shroyers had started thinking about who received Korinne’s organs. As they were contemplating how they should go about contacting the recipients, they received a letter from Mr. Geiger through LifeNet, the organ and tissue donation agency in Virginia.

“I wrote that letter I can’t tell you how many times,” Mr. Geiger said. “I couldn’t ever quite get it the way I wanted it to be until finally, somebody very smart said, ‘Just say thank you.’”

The letter started a flow of correspondence between the two parties, and last fall they arranged to meet in Charlottesville at a LifeNet office.

“We all hugged and we sat down, and I sighed. And Kevin leaned over and said, ‘Do that again,’” Mr. Geiger said. “Because he could hear his daughter’s lungs and hear my voice and my voice is powered by his daughter’s lungs.”

The emotional meeting sparked a close bond, and the two soon realized they shared a love of fitness. They began participating in races together, and today will take on their first marathon.

The race helps benefit organ and tissue donation programs for the Donate Life Partnership of LifeNet and the United Network for Organ Sharing, the Richmond nonprofit group that maintains the national list of those awaiting transplants.

More than two dozen people affected by organ donation — including families of donors, recipients and living donors — also will run as part of the Donate Life team.

“Most of our patients assume a better life than they have, but to achieve something as big as running a marathon is remarkable,” said Dr. Mark Robbins, medical director of the University of Virginia’s lung transplant program.

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