Bob Moss, 62, is doing lots of things these days he never imagined himself doing. He has taken up bowling for the first time in his life and was to compete in Michigan Saturday through Tuesday in the Transplant Games of America.
His bowling partner in the games is his fellow Livermore resident Michael Lause, the recipient of lungs donated from a Richmond policeman who died in a crash responding to a call.
The games bring organ recipients and families of deceased donors together to raise awareness for organ donation. The donors show their renewed physical abilities through sports such as bowling, running, swimming, basketball and golf. Moss hadn't played any sports since Little League, so bowling seemed like a good first step back into the sporting world. Lause and Moss have been practicing several times a week at Granada Bowl in Livermore in preparation for the games.
"In the games, even if you get gutter balls on every turn, they will still cheer you on and make you feel good," said Moss.
Moss, who has lived in Livermore since 1979, was in dire need of a heart and kidney transplant in 2005 due to complications related to his diabetes. For five years he waited for the organs while his body slowly deteriorated. His condition got so bad that in 2008 a doctor told him he'd have to live on the 10th floor of UCSF Medical Center until a donor was found. If a donor wasn't found soon, doctors told him, he would die. Moss remembers those
"I didn't want to talk to people or go places. I stopped being interested in things I used to be."
An avid car racing fan, he even lost interest in this. Then one day while lying in his hospital bed listening to music on his headphones, a nurse came in and told him he was getting a new heart and kidney that day. His elation took a sharp downward turn when the nurse mentioned that the heart and kidney were coming from a young person.
"I thought, 'Why should I be happy?' It made me very, very sad."
Twelve hours later he had a new heart and kidney. Now, he says his health is good and his diabetes is under control. As soon as his transplant was complete, his thoughts turned toward the young man whose life ended just before his was saved. Not knowing the young man's name, he wrote letters to the young man's family that were sent to them through the California Transplant Donor Network. They agreed to meet with him.
In a tearful encounter, the family told him about Ruben Bernal Jr., the 21-year-old who saved his life.
Bernal was a tattoo artist and engaged to be married when he was shot in the head in a drive-by shooting while standing outside his house in Union City.
Moss attempted to get a tattoo in Bernal's honor but was told by doctors he could not risk it due to the immunosuppressant drugs he was on. So Moss settled for placing a picture of Bernal prominently in his house.
After Bernal was shot, he was rushed to the hospital, and later taken off life support. Bernal had recently signed up to be an organ donor. He hadn't told his family. When Moss met Bernal's family for the first time, including Bernal's fiancé and mother, he struggled for words.
"I don't have any idea how to thank you," he told them. "I'll be the best possible recipient I can be."
Moss said the family was very happy to meet him, and they often still see each other on the anniversary of Bernal's death, when Moss and his wife visit his grave.
"They are very happy his heart didn't go to a crappy person," said Moss.
Moss has devoted his second chance at life to helping ensure others get a second chance as well. He volunteers much of his time to donor-related outreach programs designed to raise awareness and acceptance of organ donation. He constantly is pointing people to www.donatelifecalifornia.org, where people can sign up to become potential organ donors.
He now also volunteers for a number of nonprofits related to terminal illnesses such as cystic fibrosis. Moss still feels like his recovery from depression, illness and mortality is too good to be true.
"I'm not sure I deserve this," he said. "I'm running like hell to catch up."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.