The gift of life that keeps on giving — (The News & Advance)

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The News & Advance

Cynthia T. Pegram / cpegram@newsadvance.com

April 9, 2005

Kevin Shroyer and Len Geiger will race for Korinne in Sunday’s Angels Race Triathlon in Lynchburg.

Shroyer races in memory of his daughter who died May 26, 2002. Geiger does it because 14-year-old Korinne and the Shroyer family saved his life the day after her death.

Geiger’s double lung transplant is Korinne’s gift of life.

Together they bring awareness to organ donation – Geiger as a transplant patient fully engaged in life; Shroyer as a parent who wants to underscore that extraordinary good can come from heart-wrenching loss.

“We think our message is even more powerful when the two of us come together,” said Shroyer.

This is the first race for the two in Lynchburg, Korinne Shroyer’s hometown. The Angels Race Triathlon begins at 8 a.m. Sunday, and includes a 300-meter pool swim, a 25-kilometer bike ride and a 5-kilometer run.

About 360 people are registered for the triathlon, and about 100 have volunteered to help, said Mick Gunter, race director. Spectators are welcome.

“The race is more than a sporting event,” said Gunter. “It’s about remembering people we’ve lost and were special to us.”

Korinne – athletic, pretty and vivacious – was a Dunbar Middle School student, seemingly happy in her world.

“She was having mood swings, which may or may not have been typical of a normal teenage girl going through puberty,” said her dad. “She did not like feeling sad and did not understand why she felt that way.”

“That’s why we took her to the doctor,” said Kristie Shroyer, mother of Korinne and younger daughter Kolby.

The pediatrician prescribed Paxil, an antidepressant not FDA approved for children, but frequently used for both adults and off-label for children.

The FDA has since required warning labels on the drug and others in the same category because of the risk of suicide. But at the time, no warnings went to the Shroyer family that their daughter’s reaction to the drug needed to be monitored closely because of the risk.

“Her death was what has been determined as a Paxil-induced suicide,” said Kevin Shroyer, who with advice from his lawyers, has recently begun breaking the silence he’s maintained about the circumstances of Korinne’s death.

From the moment of his first Internet search on the words “Paxil and suicide,” he knew what had happened, he said.

“I knew she committed suicide, not because it was something she meant to do, intended to do, but I knew full well it was Paxil related but I could not say that openly in public until some legal issues got taken care of.

“It is a great relief that I can explain Korinne’s death a little bit better,” said Shroyer, an investigator in the Lynchburg public defender’s office.

For Kevin Shroyer, the week of her death is mostly a blur, but he said, “I will never forget the kids that came to the hospital … it was a steady stream of people.”

The Shroyers made the decision to donate Korinne’s organs because it was what she would have wanted.

One day they got a letter thanking them, through LifeNet, from the recipient of her lungs, a Georgia man who had the transplant at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

They didn’t know his name, but they do now – Len Geiger. Eventually, they met, through LifeNet in Charlottesville.

Geiger and Kevin Shroyer are both in their mid-40s and have many of the same interests, although their lives have played out in different ways.

In 1994, Geiger was in his mid-30s when a genetically caused lung disease, Alpha-1 antitrypsin- related emphysema, was diagnosed. Eventually it reached a level of lung destruction that meant he could barely breathe.

He describes it as “a constant sense of suffocation and drowning.”

“It’s not enough to completely kill you but it feels like it all the time,” Geiger said.

Yet, he said, “It’s amazing how the body and mind can adapt. I was doing a lot of things on a very little amount of air.”

Steroid treatments for Alpha-1 caused deterioration of his hip joints, so he’d had replacement surgery in 2000.

The transplant was May 27, 2002, at UVa.

Four days later he was on a treadmill, moving twice as fast as he could have gone before, and without supplemental oxygen.

“I could carry on a conversation while I was doing it. It was an incredible feeling,” Geiger said.

Three months after the transplant, he had in a mountain biking accident that shattered his left thigh bone, which broke around the titanium implant.

In surgery, he almost died again, and the lung complications were horrific. He was airlifted back to UVa.

And against all odds, he met the goal he set for himself – to race-walk in the famous Peachtree Road race in 2003, a 10-kilometer race in Atlanta.

Ten months later, he didn’t finish last.

That letter had gotten to the Shroyers, who wrote back. Then they spoke on the phone. LifeNet arranged a meeting in Charlottesville.Korinne’s gift has brought together two men who have become friends, who have similar interests and enjoy athletics, fitness and cycling.

They’ve run in a full marathon, “my first and only,” said Geiger, who says the distance is too hard on his hips. He and Shroyer have run in a half-marathon.

Together they are able to tell Korinne’s organ donation story in a unique way, from both sides. Geiger also is able to tell people about Alpha-1 and the need for testing to detect it and treat it. And he has a future – complete with fiancée and wedding plans – and is back at work for a biotherapeutics company.

“None of that would have happened without organ donation – and the wonderful doctors that make it possible,” said Geiger.

Their story and its messages are featured nationwide, reaching countless people