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‘The gratitude is there’: La Jolla Shores paddle-out honors organ donors

As the Transplant Games of America brought thousands of organ donation recipients and their supporters to San Diego for six days of sporting events, a memorial paddle-out brought a small group to La Jolla Shores on July 31.

The Boys to Men Mentoring network partnered with the Transplant Games to present a paddle-out in honor of those who donated organs and tissue after their deaths. The paddle-out involves surfers paddling out to sea and forming a floating circle of remembrance.

For Illinois residents John and Joy Beach, participating in the paddle-out was a fitting tribute to their son, also named John, whose posthumous organ and tissue donations provided six people with critically needed organs, one person with sight and seven with skin grafts (at least two of whom were firefighters with burns). There also were six tendon donations and 149 bone donations.

“Today would have been his 30th birthday, and he was an avid sportsman, so we wanted to be part of a sporting event and be by the water for his birthday,” John Beach said of his son, who died of a head injury. “Hearing the recipient stories is the best possible outcome we could have hoped for. Whether they are our recipients or recipients in general, it is the same feeling. The gratitude is there and it is unbelievable.”

Joy Beach said she was “so grateful and thankful” to be part of the event and added that she became a volunteer with an organ and tissue donation organization back home in Illinois.

“My son was a hero and saved lots of people’s lives,” she said. “He lives on in 22 states out of two countries. He is helping others make memories. That’s the way we remember him.”

The Transplant Games were launched in 1990 and are held every two years. Organ recipients and living donors from around the world compete in 20 events ranging from track and field, basketball and tennis to bowling, darts and ballroom dancing.

This year’s games, running July 29 through Aug. 3, marks their first stop in San Diego.

Jen and Paul Jova of New Jersey are part of “Team Andrew” for their son, who also died of a head injury.

“Our son was an organ donor and he saved five lives with his donation,” Jen said. “It’s amazing to see people that received hearts running marathons and playing basketball. We love to be here to watch people live their life after such tragedy.”

Paul, for whom the paddle-out would be his first time on a surfboard, said the games are impactful to him because “we get to see how [the recipients’] lives have progressed and we see their kids and grandkids. They might not have been there had it not been for a donor. ...

“We sometimes wonder what our son would be doing if he was around, and we see what [the recipients] are doing. ... To see life moving forward is a wonderful thing. We ... can live vicariously through that.” ◆