he next time you’re at a local sporting event, look around and see if you can spot Sport Fest Windsor.
Those banners, and the organization they promote, are the work of co-founders Tom and Roger Awad, brothers who believe that the lack of organ and tissue donor numbers in Windsor-Essex needs to be addressed.
According to beadonor.ca, both Windsor and Leamington place poorly on Ontario’s registered organ donor list. Out of 179 registered cities listed on the Gift of 8 Movement rankings, Windsor sit 159th and Leamington is 167th.
If these were second-round scores in a PGA event, both towns wouldn’t have made the cut. For Tom, that’s a travesty because he is an organ recipient.
Following a liver transplant in 2005, Tom and Roger were inspired to create Sport Fest Windsor with the purpose of promoting organ and tissue donor awareness.
“I had the transplant in 2001,” said Awad, 70. “Once I got out of the hospital and started feeling better— it takes a while after a major operation like that to recover— we formed Sport Fest Windsor with the idea of using sporting events to promote organ donation and living a healthy lifestyle.”
Promoting organ donor awareness at sporting events was a natural fit for the brothers, who have been involved with sports most of their lives.
“We will help ball teams or other sporting teams with a donation,” Tom said. “What we ask them to do is to put our banner up at each tournament they’re in, forward any e-mails that we have on organ donation to their contacts, and things like that.”
Sport Fest Windsor runs between seven and 10 events every year. “We’ve run a slo-pitch league for three years,” Awad said. “We still run a slo-pitch tournament, but we’re not doing the league any more. We do volleyball, we had a bowling tournament this year, a floor hockey tournament and we’ve got a big dinner coming up in the fall.”
In late September, the organization holds an appreciation dinner in honour of organ donor families.
“Organ donor families are basically heroes,” Tom said.
Patrick Muldoon, a former quarter back who played for the Lancers in 1983, is very aware of the heroism of these families. He’s a volunteer with Sport Fest Windsor and also the recipient of a heart transplant.
“I caught a virus when I was on vacation in March of 2000 in New Orleans,” Muldoon said. The virus attacked the muscles of his 39-year-old’s heart, rendering it incapable of pumping well.
“I went through quite a bit of years with a really bad heart,” said Muldoon, who grew progressively weaker.
“(The doctors) tried everything under the sun before they would even consider a donation. By 2007, they figured out nothing was going to work. In November of 2007, I took testing and they said ‘yes, you’re on the list.’”
Muldoon eventually found a suitable donor and received a new heart in 2008 at age 48. It saved his life.
“I was told to get my things in order,” said Muldoon of the time shortly before his donor was found. “I wrote a goodbye letter to my daughter. I didn’t give it to her, thank God, because I got the call. But, I was on my way out.”
While it frustrates him, Muldoon does understand why a good number of people haven’t signed up as donors. It just hasn’t occurred to them.
“I was in the same boat,” he said. “I never really thought about it. And no one around me that I knew of had as well. It took for it to happen to me, it woke me up to how important it is. And, then I learned the facts, of how many people are actually dying just waiting for donations.
“There are so many (times) where people could donate but the family declines. I think it’s a complete lack of knowledge of what one person can do, how many lives one person can save.”
Muldoon, a chartered accountant by trade, helps maintain the Sport Fest Windsor website, sportfestwindsor.org. He also provides financial services for the organization.
“I think Tom and Roger do an absolutely amazing job at getting the word out about organ donations,” he said, “especially about the new process of going to the government website, beadonor.ca. They have a lot of events where they’re trying to spread the word.”
Windsor and Leamington’s poor rankings on beadonor.ca translate to registered organ donor rates of 16 and 14 per cent respectively.
“We put in a lot of effort,” Tom said. “But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that (Windsor and Leamington) doesn’t support organ donation. They just haven’t taken action to go online and register.”