Saturday, November 06, 2010

YOU can honor our Founders TODAY!

Three years ago, the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation premiered its first Founders' Day e-mail campaign to commemorate the Founders of Phi Sigma Sigma by raising funds to advance the values they gave us through the creation of Phi Sigma Sigma; the advancement of womanhood and our twin ideals - the brotherhood of man and alleviation of the world's pain.

Funds raised this year will be dedicated to educational grants for deserving sisters in need, leadership programming for our emerging leaders and help for those with kidney disease.

We can't wait to add your name to your chapter's honor roll as we commemorate the work of our Founders and the lasting legacy they gave to all of us. 

Thank you for choosing to give your gift now.  You can donate by visiting

Thursday, November 04, 2010

We Have Found Your Place In Phi Sig history

Dear Sisters,

Every November 26, our sisters celebrate Founders' Day, a commemoration of the birth of Phi Sigma Sigma in 1913. While that reminds us of women like Fay Chertkoff, Lillian Gordon Alpern, and Estelle Melnick Cole, there's another name that belongs right alongside theirs ...
             ... yours.

            Because in a very real sense, alumnae are "founders" our future. And the Foundation is where we express the vision and values of our sisterhood that go beyond mere friendship. Through the Foundation, we provide meaningful support for lifelong learning, education and scholarship, service, leadership, philanthropy.

            As a founder of tomorrow, you forever change who we are.

            Your place in history, though perhaps it may be less well known, is certainly no less important than that of Fay or Lillian or Estelle.

            Please let us know you're still committed to advancing womanhood and our Twin Ideals. Accept a place of honor alongside donors to the 2010 Founders' Day campaign. As you may know, gifts to this annual effort are tax-deductible and pay for educational and leadership development impacting collegiate and alumnae sisters across the U.S. and Canada. 

            Last year, many  alumnae took part with gifts of $19.13 to $1,913 - and everywhere in between. Your contribution is tax-deductible.
            As we walk the road to Phi Sigma Sigma's 2013 Centennial, let us embrace our role as founders of the future. And with loyalty, generosity, and friendship, let's provide more  sisters with every opportunity for personal growth, intellectual development, and selfless giving along the way.

Katie Herschede
Foundation President 

P.S.    On November 26, 1913, Phi Sigma Sigma became the first nonsectarian sorority, the only one founded upon the principle of diverse membership based on a woman's character, not her background. Thank you for joining me today in generous support of this cherished legacy with your gift to the 2010 Founders' Day Campaign!

                     Click here to join the Founder's Day Campaign 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Transplant Games and the Ripple

Three months after the Transplant Games and we continue to see the effects of the Foundation's sponsorhip. Turner Prewitt writes: "I am the gentleman in the picture….Your girls were great at the US Transplant Games 2010 in Madison, Wisconsin …I am a Greek, Phi Kappa Sigma At The University of Washington…class of 1976.  I had my heart transplant on 8/3/2008…..The girls at the exhibition hall were very supportive and even livened things up by singing their sorority song…we got a lot of attention….."  To see the full story, visit:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Harry Potter and a Past GA?!?

You read that right! In the middle of Universal Studios in Florida, two Gamma Zeta collegians found Past Grand Archon and Foundation Director Judith Distler and past Supreme Council officer Ellen Smith. You never know where you'll bump into a Phi Sig!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010



See the convenient links below to access PHOTOS, VIDEOS and INFORMATION about the 2010 U.S. Transplant Games and the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation's support of them. Perfect for use during your philanthropic recruitment events. (Watch for a special e-mail sent to your chapter to assist in highlighting Phi Sig's sponsorship of the Games to help you when promoting it to top recruits!)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thank you, Foundation donors! From our Transplant Games volunteers...

WHILE AT THE GAMES, WE ASKED SISTERS TO TAKE A FEW MOMENTS to share some of their observations about the event on notecards to Foundation donors. Having had a chance to review them, here are some of our favorites:

This was my first year volunteering for the National Kidney Foundation’s Transplant Games. I didn’t know what I would find when I got here, but the people I met and the stories I’ve heard will stay with me for the rest of my life. I feel truly blessed to be a part of this experience and to donate my time to something as amazing as the Transplant Games. I hope to be able to volunteer for this event again in the future.
     ~ Nicole M. Trombley, Collegiate Volunteer, Epsilon Beta Chapter at Ferris State University

Thank you for your donations! Being at the Transplant Games has been life-changing, and your donations helped make the event possible. I was able to connect with a transplant recipient at the swimming event. During the Opening Ceremony, I saw how far and wide the effects of organ donations and transplants really are. I hope that I will be able to spread the word and encourage others to learn about all the things that the NKF and Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation do. Thank you so much for making this possible.
     ~ Shannon Walsh, Collegiate Volunteer, Iota Zeta Chapter at University of Minnesota - Duluth

For me, being able to travel to Wisconsin to show my support for the National Kidney Foundation has truly been life-altering. I have met some of the most amazing people here and have shared in an experience that is unique. Remembering these individual stories still gives me chills, and I feel so blessed to be here and to be able to go back home to Kentucky to share what I’ve learned. I love what this has done for me! This is one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am so proud Phi Sig brought me to share this experience…. My chapter will get to share in my knowledge. Thank you!
     ~ Rebecca Peak, Collegiate Volunteer, Gamma Tau Chapter at Northern Kentucky University

Your donation not only helped the athletes competing, but helped me personally make the realization that in everyday life, so many people have had transplants. It was such an eye-opener today, seeing athletes compete at a level that I didn’t realize transplant recipients could. They may be different on the inside, but they are all like me on the outside. Thank you so much! 
     ~ Anonymous Collegiate Volunteer, Iota Zeta Chapter at University of Minnesota - Duluth

This is the second time I have volunteered to help with the Transplant Games, and it is something I would love to continue doing even after I finish college. The stories that have been shared with me truly show why we (Phi Sig) do what we do, and it helps to put things in perspective. I consider myself very lucky and privileged to have been a part of this. It was truly a blessed experience.
     ~ Megan Wiggins, Collegiate Volunteer, Gamma Tau Chapter at Northern Kentucky University

Thank you so much! The Transplant Games have been a wonderful experience for me and my sisters. I am incredibly lucky that I have had the opportunity to come and help out. I felt like the donors and recipients really made this event magical! I hope I am able to come to more Games in the future.
     ~ Anonymous Collegiate Volunteer

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Frequently Asked Question: Where will the 2012 Transplant Games be located?

QUICK ANSWER TO A COMMON QUESTION we're getting about future sites of the U.S. Transplant Games:

The Foundation has sponsored the Games in Louisville (2006), Pittsburgh (2008) and now Madison (2010).... So where are the next Games scheduled to be in 2012?

We contacted the NKF's public relations people, and they told us today that the final location has not yet been decided. Most likely, when it's announced, you'll see it on the Transplant Games' Facebook fan page. So if you're interested in keeping track, sign up - because that's one of the first places you'll see the information posted.

Otherwise, check back here.... We'll update sisters as soon as we have information to share.

2010 Transplant Games video has just been released!

WHETHER YOU WERE A VOLUNTEER IN MADISON or one of the thousands of sisters cheering from the sidelines at home, Phi Sigma Sigmas are sure to love this heart-warming video from the 2010 U.S. Transplant Games!

See the Opening Ceremony, clips from the different athletic competitions and even Phi Sig's own AUBREY BIRDEN (gold and bronze medalist) at timecode 1:51!

Monday, August 16, 2010

What impact did we have? Read THIS!

FROM: Foundation President Katie Herschede
TO: Phi Sigma Sigma sisters

WOW! Here's a comment I just saw on one of our blog entries. I think it sums up our impact pretty darn well! Excellent work, everyone!

P.S. Jim has posted information about his life's perspective and heart transplant on his own blog. Check it out to see other pics of him, and his observations, at the 2010 Games!


Posted: Aug. 16, 2010, 10:35 a.m.

Ladies, you were all AWESOME! Every place I turned, there were members of your team running off or coming back from some supporting activity. 

Jim Gleason - Phi Sig fan and
recipient of a silver medal!

From this heart recipient (on behalf of everyone there at the Games), "Thank you!" for all your support. I can only dream of what impact there would be on organ donation if other groups such as yours took on this wonderful life-saving cause.

Keep up the great work and see you again in 2012 somewhere at the next Games!

Jim Gleason
Heart transplant 10/19/94 and U.S. Transplant Games athlete
Silver medal winner in the men's badminton competition, ages 60-69

Friday, August 13, 2010

A Phi Sig living donor story: Gretchen Ehle's experience at the Games

By Gretchen Ehle
Games Athlete (Living Donor) and Sister of Kappa Chapter - The George Washington University

Gretchen Ehle
HELLO TO ALL MY PHI SIG SISTERS! I attended this year’s Transplant Games as a proud member of both Phi Sigma Sigma and Team Nation’s Capital.

This was my second time attending the Games - and it was, again, fantastic, though different than Pittsburgh. This year, they allowed living donors to participate in a couple of events. (I donated a kidney to my dad - and the Games have been an important part of our lives ever since, though he couldn't attend this time.) It’s been awhile since I’ve run a 100-yard dash or done a long jump, but I do play in 3 softball leagues, and so that softball toss was right up my alley, I was sure to win a medal! Or so I thought! ... Turns out, I was beat by 4 people who were, let’s say, decades older than me. That’s OK! More motivation to train and try harder next year!

Allowing the living donors to participate this year was a great experience, because it made us feel more a part of the "team" – and we’re hoping that in 2 years (wherever the Games may be) we will be allowed to participate in more events! I’m hoping for ballroom dancing, and my dad and me getting down to "The Hustle!" 

Gretchen at the Opening Ceremony
with Team Nation's Capital
I’m always truly inspired at the Games, and this year I had the pleasure of being on Team Nation’s Capital with 2 amazing individuals who were anonymous donors. Transplantation has come so far over the past several years, but what has really developed is the heightened awareness of those living on transplant lists, and more importantly the altruistic nature of Americans in anonymously donating.  I am continually inspired by the stories that I hear and that are shared at the Games, and I can’t wait to attend with my Phi Sig sisters in 2 years (hopefully we will know soon where the games will be!).

With all my love,


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I may have won GOLD and BRONZE medals - but Phi Sig sisters at the Games won my heart!

By Aubrey Birden
Games Athlete and Sister of Iota Epsilon - Indiana University at Kokomo; Winner of Gold and Bronze medals (cycling and bowling, respectively)

Hello, Phi Sigs! Oh, my goodness.... The 2010 National Kidney Foundation Transplant Games in Madison Wisconsin were so amazing! It was so great to see all my fellow Phi Sig sisters there volunteering their time and effort. As a transplant recipient and athlete, it was especially meaningful to see my sisters there to show their love and support! :)

I did pretty well this year - and I am very surprised (LOL), but I won GOLD in cycling and BRONZE in bowling! Yay! And the bowling was so close, I was only 10 pins away from gold; those girls were good!

The best part about the Games, as always, was getting to know other transplant recipients and making new friends. Plus, seeing the donor families, who lost loved ones, was so heart-warming.... Their strength empowers me to continue my advocacy to raise awareness for needed organs.

This year, both my mom and dad (my donor) got to come along! It was their first time, and they had so much fun. On Aug. 12, Dad and I will be celebrating the 17-year anniversary of our healthy kidney transplant! Here's to the next 17 years!

Aubrey with parents
Ron and Diana Birden
Thank you so much to all my sisters who came, those who supported me from afar, and of course to the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation. All of your love and fundraising efforts help benefit the National Kidney Foundation in so many ways! Many people (over 100,000) are still waiting for a lifesaving transplant. Sign up to be a donor, and you could ultimately impact up to 150 people’s lives! Isn't that amazing?

Phi Sigma Sigma means so much to me - not just as a sister, leader and volunteer, but as a person. I know that our proclamation of "Once a Phi Sigma Sigma, Always a Phi Sigma Sigma" rings true not only in my heart, but in the heart and soul of every sister I have had the opportunity to meet, as well as those I haven't yet met.

Thank you, again, for all who attended the Games or rooted for the athletes! You DO made a difference and have an enormous impact on raising awareness of the need for organ and tissue donation in America.

Love you so much, sisters! PSLAM!

THANK YOU to all my Phi Sig sisters for volunteering and making this such a great experience...

By Missy Spishak
Transplant Games Coordinator
Zeta Kappa - University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

OK, PHI SIGS: As we wrap up another successful Games season and our blogging efforts, I WANT TO THANK EVERY SINGLE SISTER who donated her time to the Games! 

Many traveled far to volunteer (nearly coast to coast), and everyone gave a tremendous amount of time and energy to make this a wonderful event for the athletes, their families and the donor families.

We even had some guests who worked extremely hard at the Games alongside the sisters! Special thanks to our guys Jon Barrows and Steve Roberts, and also to Shannon Salisbury who took the road trip with Danni Pascuma to attend.

I also have to thank the amazing committee who helped pull off organizing our 80+ volunteers and keeping me well-caffeinated throughout the weekend (see me with Starbucks in most pictures). Thanks to Jessie Stapleton, Gretchen Ehle, Tara Ervin, Jess Berner and Kelly Chirumbolo, and also special thanks to Foundation President Katie Herschede, Vice President Marianne Cohen and Director Pam Downey (also our GA!) who pitched in just as hard as everyone else to make this a huge success.

Additionally, thanks to the NKF staff for working with us the entire weekend, and to the Hilton staff (including our favorite guy, Dave, who could be found carrying box after box to the Foundation suite). Thanks, too, to Grand Vice Archon Alicia Scott for baking some awesome cookies and having them shipped in the Dora the Explorer pull-ups box. They were definitely yummy! And let's not forget our sister Lisa Romero for helping to bring our voices from the Games to you via this blogging channel.

Every single person who pitched in was appreciated, and I hope everyone had an incredible, life-changing experience! See you in two years - destination still to be determined, but we will let you know ASAP!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

More reunions, more Games, more Phi Sig love for athletes and this incredible experience!

By Missy Spishak
Transplant Games Coordinator
Zeta Kappa - University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Missy with Junior Whopper
(front left) and friends
Here's a continuation of my adventures at the Games: Later Sunday night, Phi Sigs headed to 3-on-3 basketball. This is definitely a favorite event for all! There were even more reunions for me at this event, as I was FINALLY able to track down my buddy Junior Whopper from Team Philadelphia. I first met Michael Snyder - who declared to all that he was "Junior Whopper" in Pittsburgh - and I have not forgotten how incredible he was. Michael received his mom's kidney when he was nearly 2, and then after having complications and his body rejecting the kidney, he received a second kidney at age 6. Today, he is doing great and has definitely become a serious little basketball player at the age of 9!

This year, I got to meet his big brother Steve and his dad. This family is just full of life, and they love watching Michael compete in the Games. The family told me Michael has his own website, so if you would like to read his full story you can go to  I got to take my picture with Michael and his teammate Louie (his mom says they're two peas in a pod), as well as Kayla who is also on Team Philly (the boys call her the "assistant coach") and big brother Steve. Good luck to Junior Whopper in the basketball finals!

Jon Hochstein (center) and his Phi Sig fans,
including Gretchen Ehle (far right) a team member
who donated her kidney to her father
As the night was wrapping up, I was able to finally sit down with the Hochstein family and Gretchen Ehle to cheer on the Nation's Capital team in basketball. Jon Hochstein was awesome on the courts! Nation's Capital won and gets to move on the the final rounds. Good luck!

Everywhere I went at these events I heard over and over how thankful people were that the Phi Sigma Sigma women were there supporting the athletes and making memories with the families. It was such an incredible feeling knowing we make such an impression and that they look forward to seeing us at the Games.

I met so many wonderful people! I can't list them all, but every single one of them has now earned a special place in my life: from the tiny Junior Whopper to Jose Zaragoza and his family to members of Team Pittsburgh whom I met and discovered we were co-workers at one point! I have come home with so many stories and new connections that I will never lose. This is exactly why I volunteer at these Games!

I traveled to the wonderful state of Wisconsin not for the cheese curds (which a few can attest that I ate ALOT of cheese curds), but for the athletes and the families and the celebration of life and giving. This event has changed my life in so many ways, and I am looking forward to finding more ways to keep the spirit of the Games alive in me. Just telling my stories to a friend today has made her decide to check the box to donate her organs. I will donate my organs, will you?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sisterhood at the Games: Meeting an athlete from another sorority, and learning from her incredible experience...

By Coree Pierce
Collegiate Volunteer
Epsilon Epsilon - California State University, Bakersfield

GOING TO THE TRANSPLANT GAMES was a very unique and amazing experience for me! In fact, my favorite part of the weekend was talking to all of the wonderful people and hearing their stories.

Sara Castro (center), flanked by Phi Sig sisters
Coree Pierce and Madison Wood (L-R).
On Saturday, Madison Wood (also an Epsilon Epsilon sister) and I were spending some time at the Foundation Expo when we were approached by the mother of an athlete. She noticed we were in a sorority and told us that her daughter was in one, too. She introduced us to Sara Castro a few minutes later.

Sara is currently attending California State University, Los Angeles, and is a member of Alpha Theta Pi (one of the oldest sororities on that campus). Nearly 19 years ago, she received a heart transplant when she was 5 weeks old at Loma Linda University Medical Center.

She told us she doesn't let her transplant hold her back, and she enjoys going to the Transplant Games. We want to wish her the best of luck in everything! It was very fun and inspiring to have the opportunity to meet Sara and the others participating in the Transplant Games. I really hope that I am able to attend the Games in 2012 - wherever they may be.

SUCH a WHIRLWIND! Unpacking some great experiences from the Games...

By Missy Spishak
Transplant Games Coordinator
Zeta Kappa - University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

The Greller Clan
BY TODAY, TUESDAY, THE PHI SIG VOLUNTEERS HAVE ALL LEFT MADISON, where we had an incredible time getting to know the athletes and the donor families. I am finally able to sit down, reflect and relive some of the moments I had during the Games, and I can't wait to share them all with you. (In fact, I'll have to break this entry into two! More to enjoy later!) 

After running the 5K with my sisters Saturday morning (I finished in 31 minutes and placed 36th of 180 in my age category - very exciting for a non-runner like myself), I went to the swimming events. I was super excited to find the GRELLER FAMILY, whom I had met two years ago in Pittsburgh. And guess what! They were hunting to find me among the Phi Sigs! I loved being reunited with John Greller, a kidney and pancreas recipient, and his son Brian, who donated his kidney to John - and I enjoyed seeing Brian's two brothers, sister and the rest of the clan. John won two gold medals and a silver in the swimming events, and it was such a joy to see how well he is doing and to share in the celebration with him and his whole family.

The Zaragozas at Opening Ceremony
Then I was off to Team Tailgate and the Opening Ceremony. The ceremony itself starts out as a big party where Games athletes from across the country parade in to cheers and non-stop clapping! We got to see the athletes and families we met throughout our time at the Expo marching in with their teams.

My first moment of raw emotion was when the ZARAGOZA FAMILY (Marianne Cohen and I first met this family at the Expo) saw me standing there taking pictures.... Jose Zaragoza, who lost his son Matthew at the age of 16 only five years ago, walked over and gave me a huge hug and thanked me for being there and supporting the Games. Yep, I cried for the first time that night! The rest of the ceremony was a wonderful celebration of life and giving. 

Joseph Lackey in 2008 and 2010 (L-R).
Sunday morning, I woke up bright and early to find my Phi Sig sisters working hard at the water station for cycling. I enjoyed hanging out with them until the lake mosquitoes started attacking me (!), so I was off to swimming events again! This time at swimming, I found a little boy we Phi Sigs fell in love with last time: JOSEPH LACKEY, who was photographed two years ago in Pittsburgh with "Eat my Bubbles" on his back. This time, his message was "Follow Me to the Wall"!  I got to talk to his mom Sheila, and found out this amazing little guy was from Team Alabama; he had his kidney transplant at age 2. He's now 10 and doing amazing! His 17-year-old sister Katie was there cheering him on, and she even danced with him on Friday night in the ballroom competition. Hearing Katie cheering in her southern accent for her little brother was such a sweet moment for me. I can't wait to see what Joseph has written on his back in two years when he goes for the gold again in swimming!

More to come soon! We're nowhere close to done blogging about this amazing experience! Watch for updates all week - as the Games do not conclude until Wednesday. But, as you can already tell, the impact on us (and, we hope, all of you) will last a lifetime - all thanks to the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation!

Monday, August 02, 2010

The family whose son saved lives - and whose powerful story gave me chills!

By Danni Pascuma
Alumna Volunteer
Gamma Zeta - University of Rhode Island

THE FIRST TIME I CAME TO THE GAMES TWO YEARS AGO, I was a collegian, and the event was held in Pittsburgh. I was blown away by the love and connectedness that all of the participants had for and with each other. I knew that I had to come back again to experience this truly amazing tradition!

The Packhems and Phi Sig alumna
Danni Pascuma (far right)
Now, as a recently graduated alumna, I have joined the Phi Sigma Sigma forces once again to volunteer here in Madison, Wisconsin. The 16 hours that I drove from New York City is a small price compared to what many of these families have been through. The transplant athletes have risen above all to compete this week in good health. The living donors have literally given a piece of themselves to save friends, family or even a stranger in need, and the donor families whose mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters have left a lasting legacy that lives on within others, gather to honor their loved ones. All of these groups - plus the incredible supporters that have come to recognize and cheer on the participants - make the U.S. Transplant Games a culture all its own.

In the midst of the pin-trading frenzy (that you may never understand unless you have been here), having the chance to listen to everyone’s story of strength in the face of adversity is at the heart of the Games. This is beyond a doubt my favorite part of volunteering. Saturday morning as I was volunteering at the Foundation booth at the Expo, I met the Packhem family from Warwick, RI. Their story still gives me the chills.

When 16-year-old Timothy asked his parents what the heart on a license was, they explained it meant the person was an organ donor. He responded that when he was to get his license in the upcoming months, he wanted to be an organ donor, too. They didn’t know that a few weeks later, they would have to honor that request. Timothy saved four lives that day by donating his heart, liver, kidney, and lungs.

In 2008, a year after their son’s passing, the Packhems chose to attend their first U.S. Transplant Games in memory of their son. One night after an event, they decided it would be too difficult for a cab driver to find them at the Games location, so took a shuttle bus to a random hotel that could find them a cab home. They landed at a DoubleTree. As they were awaiting their cab’s arrival, a gentleman commented on Mr. Packhem’s Red Sox hat. They began talking, and he told that he was a double lung recipient from Central New York. This man, whose name is Bobby, received Timothy’s Packhem’s lungs.

The Packhem family is one of the many who travel to these Games and have the opportunity to meet the men and women who were given a second chance at life. These are strong, generous families who are determined to see something positive come from their grief. Every single one of these people is exceptionally inspiring, and it is because of them that I feel so connected with the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation and will keep coming back!

As a volunteer, I know that the transplant community is truly grateful for us being at the Games. They never stop thanking us for the support and dedication that is shown through the Foundation. I am proud to be able to support events like the National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games, and I am honored to be able to stand with the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation in the fight against kidney disease.

The most selfless act: He gave a kidney to a complete stranger as part of a 'transplant chain'!

By Cedar Schimke
Collegiate Volunteer & Archon
Iota Zeta - University of Minnesota at Duluth

Walking down State Street in Madison, host city for the Transplant Games, I encountered a man with a living-donor story of national proportions. Literally.

He was part of one of the nation's largest-ever "transplant chains." Read a medical article about the phenomenon and a related article in Glamour magazine here.

Here's what happened: This past December, 13 once-healthy Americans were in dire need of a kidney transplant. They had family members or loved ones who were not compatible with them, but were willing to donate to other patients. Upon determining which donors and future recipients were compatible, the group still needed three donors to complete the chain. Bill altruistically donated one of his healthy kidneys to a complete stranger so the transplants could take place.

I wanted to know more! Bill told me when people suffer kidney failure, their lives become consumed by dialysis. Family relationships and work requirements are often replaced by hospital visits and a bittersweet endearment toward life-sustaining dialysis centers.

Each of the donors received just three small incisions. In a marathon procedure, the healthy kidneys were drained of fluids and removed through a two-inch hole in the abdominal cavity. They were then transplanted into the people who needed them. Imagine that: 13 kidneys, 26 separate operations, 13 lives saved.

One month of recovery and no physical ailments later, Bill gave me a gift: He helped me to realize what it's like to have no barriers between one another - what it's like to give something of yourself that makes the ultimate human connection.

The Transplant Games are brimming with stories like these - of genuine interactions between complete strangers. Someone like Bill shows us all the potential for true love - and that, even if we do not know one another, we are not so different, you and I.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Lending a hand to living donors

Phi Sigs reported for volunteer duty at the Living Donor Ceremony this afternoon. It was an emotional tribute to people, just like our sister Gretchen Ehle, who made the decision to donate an organ (usually a kidney or part of a liver) to a loved one or even a complete stranger. (More about Gretchen's experience at the Games - and her living-donor story soon.)

As always, our women are everywhere and doing everything to make these Games a success!

He rode for love... and to prove to the world he can do what once seemed impossible!

By Amanda Barnum
Collegiate Volunteer
Theta Alpha - Northern Michigan University

I just met an AMAZING couple in the hallway: Sean and Virginia O'Rourke! About a year ago, he received a kidney from his wife, and he tried to figure out how he could spread the word about organ donation to give something back to Virginia.

Thinking back to a cycling trip they took together in 2000 from Seattle to Boston, Sean decided to complete a ride from the state of Washington (starting June 13) to Madison, Wisc., (arriving Thursday, July 29 at 11 p.m., completing a "century ride" of more than 1000 miles). All of this to compete in the Transplant Games!

He competed today in both the 5K and 20K cycling race (and, as a side note, he has a ton of interesting stories from his cross-country ride)! He also competed in the 5K run and 100-meter swim for the virtual triathlon.

I had to share this wonderful couple's story - because it says so much about love and the power of organ donation and transplantation to transform lives. Turns out, they've received a lot of press on his journey to the Games! To learn more, check out these websites:

Bestowing the medals at cycling - what an honor!

WHAT A TREAT FOR US: Phi Sigs are presenting all of the medal-winning cyclists with their awards!

So, in addition to seeing so many of these inspirational athletes strive to perform their very best, we get to acknowledge their amazing accomplishments, too! It's truly an honor.

Guess Who Got GOLD?

WAY TO GO! Aubrey Birden, our Phi Sig sister from our Indiana University-Kokomo chapter (Iota Epsilon), just won GOLD in the 5K time trial! CONGRATULATIONS!

She took a minute to get a picture with all of her sisters who were cheering her on at the cycling event!

COMING SOON: A special blog from Aubrey - who has been a part of the Phi Sig Foundation's presence at the Transplant Games since 2006!

Meet Nolan - the 'biggest littlest' celebrity at the cycling event!

Nolan with Foundation Vice President Marianne Cohen.

MEET NOLAN, a bone-marrow transplant recipient from Wisconsin! He is the youngest cyclist at 3 years of age, and just 2 years ago yesterday he celebrated his transplant birthday.

He is a huge celebrity at the cycling event, so we waited in line for quite a while to get our picture with him! It is amazing to see these little athletes compete and do so well!


Keeping everyone cool

Katie Herschede here at the cycling event. Phi Sigs are very well represented - and are both cheering on the athletes and helping everyone keep cool at the water station.

I just overheard an athlete tell our women that she has seen us EVERYWHERE and is so THANKFUL that we volunteer and support the Games.

It has been tons of fun to watch all of the athletes cross the finish line!

Phi Sigs working the cycling event

WE ARE UP BRIGHT AND EARLY SUNDAY MORNING to work the cycling event! Collegiate volunteers from Epsilon Beta at Ferris State and Gamma Zeta at University of Rhode Island, as well as alumnae volunteers Erin Halye (Gamma Sigma - Virginia Commonwealth), Jen McElroy (Theta Upsilon - University of La Verne), Tara Ervin (CKA Theta Upsilon) and Marianne Cohen (Foundation Vice President) can't wait to cheer them on! More pics to come soon!

There was no mistaking who the Phi Sigs were at this year's Games ... just another reason to be PROUD!

IT'S NOT OFTEN WE EXPERIENCE THOSE MOMENTS IN TIME - those epiphanies - that make us realize our lives are not difficult...  not compared to some in this world. This weekend, the Phi Sigs, and in particular me, experienced another one of those life-changing moments when we realized how lucky we have it!

The Transplant Games provided the backdrop for one story after another about how a donor family was there in support of an athlete competing in the Games. Or a story about how, after the loss of a family member, someone has changed careers to do "something" with their lives - bringing clarity to why they are on this earth. I heard countless stories as I visited the many booths at the Transplant Expo - sometimes so heart-wrenching, you couldn't help but cry along with the people who told them.

The other thing I heard was: "WOW, who are you? What is Phi Sigma Sigma, and why are you here?" Just tonight, I heard someone say what a presence we had... that we were EVERYWHERE this weekend. And, it's true! Every time you turned around, there were Phi Sig collegians volunteering, handing out pins, explaining why we support the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation and what we do in support of the Games. And, in a split second, conversations turned from heart-wrenching to heart-warming.

That is what the Games are all about. People have accepted their loss but have embraced a new way of life. No grieving at this event but, rather, a celebration of life. This is my third Games visit, and it will not be my last! For me, it is an opportunity to get in touch with what is important in this world and to try and make it a better place. I am so very proud of all of our Phi Sig collegians and alumnae volunteers who joined me in that effort this weekend. It makes me very proud to call each of you sister.

Job well done, ladies... a job well done!

Pamela Downey
Phi Sigma Sigma Grand Archon & Foundation Director

To Carrie, it's not about winning: It's about being here to celebrate life!

By Shannon Walsh
Collegiate Volunteer
Iota Zeta - University of Minnesota-Duluth    

The 2010 Transplant Games in Madison have been my first eye-opening experience to the world of organ donors and recipients. When I joined a sorority, I expected new friendships and to participate in philanthropic events - but never in a million years did I expect what I’ve experienced thus far through Phi Sigma Sigma. The bonds, the sisterhood and the opportunities available within Phi Sig are completely indescribable.

Today I had my first experience with a transplant recipient. Carrie ran a 5K Saturday morning, and later competed in the 60-69 age bracket of the women's 500 freestyle swimming event. I was the counter for Carrie’s swim. While waiting for her heat, we talked about why Phi Sigma Sigma is at the Games and then about her past experiences. Carrie - the proud mother of one daughter - told me she received a kidney transplant six years ago and is doing very well. She has been practicing and training for the events in her third trip to the Games for the past few months. She told me it isn’t about winning.... It’s about showing that she can do it.

Carrie successfully completed her race in the time she was expecting. When I went to congratulate her at dinner, she told me that she could hear me encouraging her at each turn. It really helped her and gave her the confidence to press on. The look of complete gratitude on her face was truly touching. I am honored to have touched the life of one athlete here! The continuous thank yous and the smiles from everyone here have been extremely inspirational. The 2010 Transplant Games will be something I will not soon forget, and I am honored to have been a part of this wonderful experience.

My first Opening Ceremonies: Words can't express...

From Marianne Cohen
Delta Beta - University of Rochester

I don't even know where to start! As the newest Foundation Director, long-time international volunteer, and a first-time Games attendee, I can't believe I haven't attended these before now!

This has been such a tremendous experience. At the opening ceremonies this evening, I saw the athletes walk in, followed by the living donors, followed by the donor families (those whose loved ones had passed away and yet "live on" in transplant recipients like the Games athletes who received their gifts of life). With each group, I become even more and more emotional!

With the last group, I pictured my family and thought about what I would do if I were in that situation. What a hard, but incredibly brave decision they had to make.

The keynote speakers talked about the 20-YEAR history of the Transplant Games. How cool is that - they started with a couple hundred athletes and, this year, there are over 2,000!

Listening to Larry Hagman (yes, of "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Dallas" fame) talk about "recyling your body parts" to help others, I thought: What a concept! They talked about "Miracles and Memories," and that hit me. It's such an interesting idea: Everyone here is part of a miracle, and we all created awesome memories! In fact, they had the oldest athlete (85) and the youngest athlete (2) recite the Athlete's Oath to demonstrate that young and old alike benefit from the gift of life (well, the 2-year-old didn't really say it - but she was adorable).

The closing part of the evening featured a woman whose infant son passed away some years ago. She and her husband donated his heart to another baby, whose story they had been following online for 9 months following the transplant surgery.... And, today, they met for the first time! During the ceremony, both families were sitting right in front of us. To top it off, the mom sang a phenomenal version of "For Good" from Wicked ("because I knew you"), and there was not a dry eye in the house.

After being here, I don't think I can ever think about quitting ANYTHING. While the athletes and donor families were walking in (a 20-minute process), my arms started hurting from clapping.... But when I thought about stopping, I said to myself, "How can I stop clapping for these people who have been through so much?"

I am inspired and full of hope that the work I am doing with the Foundation is really helping those in need. Our sponsorship of the Transplant Games is so extraordinary! I am proud to be a Director on the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation Board and, more than ever, a Phi Sigma Sigma.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

One of the most touching moments of tonight's celebration of life...

IF THERE WAS A DRY EYE IN THE HOUSE after tonight's singing performance by Holly Campbell at the Opening Ceremony, we can't imagine it....

Holly and her husband Andrew made the difficult decision nearly three years ago to donate their infant son's heart after he stopped breathing during a nap. The recipient was Beckham Scadlock, an attendee at this year's Games.

Both families met for the first time just hours before the Opening Ceremony!

As Holly sang the touching, lovely song "For Good" (from the hit musical Wicked) for the audience, there were audible sobs from around the packed arena. Pictures of her son Jacob, affectionately known as "Jake," were displayed throughout her song.

Afterwards, the Campbells and Scadlocks (who were sitting right in front of Phi Sig sisters!) gathered together in the front, hugging and tearful, as the crowd responded to their story and Holly Campbell's performance with thunderous applause.

EDITOR'S NOTE (8/14/10): We later learned that both mothers had sung "For Good" to their sons... Holly before her son passed away and Kim Scadlock just after her son's heart transplant - and neither realized it until after they connected. Read more in this media story.

U.S. Olympic snowboarder and torch bearer Chris Klug officially 'starts' the Games

SHOWN HERE: Perennial Phi Sig friend, U.S. Olympic snowboarder and liver-transplant recipient CHRIS KLUG as he lit the flame officially kicking off the 2010 Transplant Games at the Opening Ceremony.

Chris, who has created his own foundation to support organ donation and transplantation, is always gracious and lovely to Phi Sig women - whom he knows are big-time advocates here at the Games!

A shoutout for Team Pittsburgh - our friends from 2008!

PHI SIGS CHEERED LOUD AND LONG for our friends from the last host site of the U.S. Transplant Games, Team Pittsburgh, as they entered the arena during tonight's Opening Ceremony! (Of course, we believe the sister who cheered the loudest was none other than Games Coordinator Missy Spishak, who calls that area home!)  P.S. Check out the "terrible towels" - a fan staple for those who cheer on the Pittsburgh Steelers!

Celebrating Team Wisconsin at the Opening Ceremony: Thanks for being the host state!

WE LOVE BEING GUESTS IN BEAUTIFUL MADISON, so Phi Sigs really cheered tonight for Team Wisconsin - who helped host and welcome athletes from all over the country!

Check us out! Major sponsor of the Games, up on the big screen for all to see!

SEEN AT TONIGHT'S OPENING CEREMONY (and met with enormous cheers - not just from our 80+ sister-volunteers in attendance, but also the thousands of people either participating in or attending the Games):

The Phi Sigma Sigma is a major sponsor, right up there with organizations like the world-famous Mayo Clinic!

Aubrey Birden - our Phi Sig sister and an athlete at the Games!

CHECK IT OUT! What a great photo of Phi Sig's own AUBREY BIRDEN (Iota Epsilon - Indiana University at Kokomo) during tonight's exciting Opening Ceremony, when dozens of teams from across the United States were formally welcomed to the U.S. Transplant Games!

Aubrey is an athlete on Team Indiana, and she'll be competing in the 5K cycle race on Sunday, badminton on Monday and bowling on Tuesday. Good luck, Aubrey!

Hi from the Foundation Board as we head to Opening Ceremonies...


It's obvious from this pic that Foundation President Katie Herschede, newly elected Vice President Marianne Cohen and Director/Phi Sig Grand Archon Pamela Downey are having the time of their lives at this year's Transplant Games!

We're off to the Opening Ceremonies. Look for more reports soon!

(P.S. Wish you were here! Missing our Board Directors Kim Hildred, Judith Distler, Judy Slater, Liz Rodriguez, Aggie Malter, former Director/current Consultant Michelle Soucy and Director of Development Erin Leahey.)

The story of Joe: A policeman who gave the ultimate gift of life

By Lisa Romero
For the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation

NOTHING WILL BRING YOU TO YOUR EMOTIONAL KNEES FASTER than the story of a mother and father who lost not just a young son, cut down in the prime of life, but a role model for the entire family and community. The story of a man whose love of helping others knew no bounds - whose life ultimately helped save more than 50 people.

Joe Chairez
Shortly before police officer JOE CHAIREZ, 24, of Sacramento, Calif., suffered a fatal aneurysm and died in 2000, he had asked his parents to promise that if anything should ever happen, they'd honor his decision to be an organ donor.

This should have come as no surprise: He was elected president of his high-school class and, later, student body president... had always been a high achiever who viewed life as something you could never take for granted.

His father, Jess Chairez, held nothing back from his son: He told him he'd never permit it. "There was no way," was all Jess would say in explaining, shaking his head. You got the sense that Jess struggled with a decision that impacts so many donor families.

Jess and Theresa Chairez
That ended when the doctors told him and his wife Theresa that Joe had a 1% chance of survival.

"I went to God, and I prayed," Jess told sisters with tears in his eyes. "I said, what should I do? And He told me, 'If you honor your son by doing this, you'll honor me.' And I knew it's what Joe wanted, it was the right thing to do."

Jess and Theresa - who now view the Transplant Games athletes and living donors as a second family - have never regretted that decision. That was doubly true when they were invited to hear the beating heart of their son in the transplant patient who received it.

"You need to know," Jess said, "that my son saved four lives that day." What's more, as a regular blood donor since the age of 16, Joe had also helped save the lives of at least 42 other lives, as his parents were informed by the local blood bank after his passing.

"What you are doing here today - supporting the Games, helping people understand what it's all about... well, I can't thank you enough," Jess said. "I'm so proud of you. Even though we've only just met, I know you. You're a part of everything here. You make a difference."

Joe donated to Foundation all five of the pins he has had specially created in his son's memory - and distributed to athletes since 2000. (We'll post them as a collection later tonight.) And he wants to keep in touch.

"God has different answers for all of us," Jess said, explaining that donor families have a difficult burden in deciding what to do. But he's glad he heard the "call" of his son.

And we're so glad the Chairez family stopped to share their story.

Warmly welcoming a Phi Sig Foundation friend - and hearing a story of true 'sisterly' love!

By Lisa Romero
For the Phi Sigma Sigma Foundation

JoAnn Villanueva and
her sister Suzanne Ruff
HERE'S TO FAMILIAR FACES! Recognize the woman on the left? That's JOANN VILLANUEVA, a speaker at our Leadership Conference in Chicago a couple of years ago, who kindly joined us during a Foundation dinner to discuss her experiences as a kidney transplant recipient.

Today, she approached Phi Sigma Sigma sisters at the Expo to ask if we remembered her - and to let us know she was here in Madison with her sister SUZANNE RUFF, a living donor and the author of a new, celebrated book about organ donation. (It's been endorsed by none other than Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent.) "The Reluctant Donor" describes how Suzanne dealt with a range of emotions as she worked through the process of deciding to donate a kidney to JoAnn.

"It's a book about doubt, about wanting to do something in your heart to help someone you love, but being afraid - and then overcoming that," JoAnn explained. Part of the reason for Suzanne's reluctance was a fear she might need her extra kidney, as many women in her family have been afflicted by the same debilitating disease (i.e., polycystic kidney disease, also known as PKD).

Because of Suzanne's courage and loving donation, JoAnn says she's been given another chance at life - and she made the most of it this week as a member of the Games' Team Illinois, competing in the swimming event!

"It's great to be here," JoAnn said. "And it's so great to see your women here, too!" For our part, we're so glad JoAnn remembered us - and we'll look forward to seeing her at upcoming Games!

We're now ready for snowboarding season!

Foundation Directors Pam and Marianne got the chance to hang with liver transplant-recipient and Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug. He is seriously one of the nicest people in the world and even offered up some tips for the winter sports season! Next stop is the opening ceremony!