Eight years ago, Jill Morton was dying. A family history of kidney disease had finally caught up with her. Her kidneys were failing, and her body was shutting down.
"I was really afraid," she says.
For two long years, Morton, of Boca Raton, Fla., lived with that fear -- her name on the transplant list and a beeper always at hand -- waiting for that moment when a match might suddenly become available.
Then a visit in an Internet chat room changed everything. Morton met a woman, quite literally on the other side of the world. She was communicating using a solar-powered laptop computer from somewhere deep within the Australian Outback. She told Morton that she was interested in donating a kidney.
"It is kind of unbelievable to imagine that someone you don't even know would give you a kidney," Morton told the Florida Sun Sentinel. But the offer stood. And when tests confirmed compatibility, the two arranged to meet in person before the transplant surgery on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus.
Her Aussie donor wanted no recognition, but the following year a healthy Morton found her own way to say thank you. Morton won a gold medal at the 2004 National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games and placed it around her donor's neck.
Since then, Morton's gone on to dedicate her athletic pursuits to raising awareness about organ donation and transplantation. She's a three-time gold medal tennis champion at the U.S. Transplant Games and competing again in 2011. She's also taken the gold in the 5k run and the 20k cycling events, and a silver medal in golf and mixed doubles tennis.
In June 2011, Morton had the opportunity to compete in her first World Transplant Games in Gothenburg, Sweden. She won five medals in all. She won two gold medals -- in singles tennis and cycling -- a silver medal in the 800 meter run, a Silver Medal in the USA Team 4 x 400 meter relay, and a bronze medal in the 3k race. It was a chance to realize a lifelong dream, Morton says. A documentary about Morton's training for the World Transplants Games will be released soon.