Transplant recipients from all over the state, and a few from even further away, traveled to Plainfield over the weekend to participate in the first Transplant Groupie Picnic.
The event was held at Hummel Park and was planned by three women who live quite a distance apart — Lynn Livingston of Plainfield, Debie Switalski of South Bend, and Cherie Orvis of Anderson.
“I had my transplant in November of ‘08 and I think we started the support group in 2010,” Switalski said. “It kind of started on Facebook. We got to know each other that way.
“Lynn (Livingston) had created a page for just transplant recipients on Facebook. Lynn and I have really become good friends. I had cancer last year and she was with me through all of that.”
Both Switalski and Livingston have received life-saving liver transplants.
She said it was nice to see so many other transplant recipients. Switalski said many of the people who attended the event had been in communication online but had not met face to face.
Orvis helped plan the event in honor of her father, Dave Netherton who had received a multivisceral transplant receiving a stomach, pancreas, kidney, small intestine, and lower intestine.
“He had his transplant in May 2008,” she said.
Her father died in January of 2010, but she said she’s found good friends in the support group system.
“It’s a scary process,” Orvis said. “It’s a big help to talk to someone who’s been through it.”
Livingston said the picnic was a natural progression from the support group and she’s hoping to make it an annual event.
“Well, I had the idea and posted something on Facebook,” she said. “Many of us knew each other from the clinic. I’m really happy with the turnout. One gentleman even came from Ohio.”
Jimmy Merry of Ellettsville had not met any of this transplant “friends” face to face until Saturday, as he had mostly corresponded on social media.
“Having that support has been very beneficial because when you have a transplant you have so many questions,” Merry said. “You want to know things like how much water should I drink in a day.”
He had a kidney transplant in 2009.
“I do hope to find out who my donor was someday because I want to thank the family,” Merry said. “It’s hard for me to get to the support group because I teach school, but this has been great for us to get together.”
Anne Facon came to the picnic with her son Brandon, 18, who just received a liver transplant on Aug. 10. The two are from Carlsbad, Calif., but moved to Indianapolis for a better chance at a transplant.
“We’ve been in the support pre and post surgery,” Anne Facon said. “It really helped us to know what was going to happen. Brandon graduated high school June 15 and we moved here June 16.”
She said the staff at IU has been very helpful and that the picnic was just what the two needed.
“It’s very nice to get out,” she said. “Brandon normally has to wear a mask, but you can’t very well eat with your mask on.”
Brandon Facon said he’s feeling good and was happy to see many of his support group friends.
Livingston said, “This day is really just about us. We wanted to celebrate what we’ve been through and how we’re doing now.”
She asked her cousin, Matt Wingler, who is a procurement transplant coordinator for the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization, to speak to those who attended.
“My role gets me involved pretty early in the process,” Wingler said. “I’m in charge of the medical management of the donor. There’s quite a bit we do to improve the organ function.
“My dad was also a tissue donor. And it’s so nice to see some of you because I remember your names.”