MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- Bobby Gromer picks up a softball and tosses it to his niece across the yard as hard as he can. It sails past her, delighting the 42-year-old Gromer, who is mentally and physically disabled.
"I missed it," his niece squeals, as Bobby laughs and slaps his knee.
If it weren't for his kidney transplant four years ago, Gromer wouldn't be in such good spirits and probably wouldn't be able throw the softball -- one of the many things that bring him joy in life.
This week, Gromer, a Bollinger County resident who lives north of Marble Hill, will be throwing with a purpose at the 2004 U.S. Transplant Games in Minneapolis, Minn.
Gromer is the only Southeast Missouri participant on Team St. Louis, which represents the region. The team will participate in the Olympic-style games July 27 to Aug. 1. The team consists entirely of transplant survivors like Gromer.
The event showcases the success of life-saving organ transplantation and is sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation.
The life-affirming celebration will include more than 100,000 athletes, friends and families, living donors, donor families, professionals in the transplant community and spectators.
The event celebrates 50 years of life-saving organ transplantation.
Athletes like Gromer who have received organ transplants that have been functioning for at least six months are eligible to compete in badminton, basketball, bowling, cycling, golf, racquetball, a 5-kilometer road race, swimming, table tennis, track and field and volleyball.
Gromer's mother, Audrey, will be going with him, along with a family friend. They planned to leave Monday for the long drive.
Audrey Gromer said that her son was born with multiple birth defects, but no one was really sure why his kidney gave out.
Gromer, who has participated in the Special Olympics in the past, was on dialysis for nearly a year waiting for a new kidney.
He was put on a waiting list, and 11 months after that, the call came.
"There is more than one person who is called," Audrey Gromer said. "There was no guarantee he would get the kidney."
But he did, and the surgery at St. Louis University Hospital was a success, despite a few setbacks, which included respiratory arrest during the surgery and later a seizure.
But now, Gromer has a healthy kidney thanks to a donor.
"It restores his freedom," Audrey Gromer said. "He had to quit work. He couldn't get around as well. This enabled him to work and travel and participate in things like the Special Olympics and now this."
Audrey Gromer said that her son wants to participate.
"He likes to throw the softball," she said. "But he'd like to win."
She said they'd also like to raise awareness for the issue of organ donation.
More than 83,000 people are waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Nationally, 17 people die every day waiting for organ transplants and more than 100 others -- one every 13 minutes -- are added to the national transplant waiting list.
"It's not that well-known, especially in this area," Audrey Gromer said. "But it is a special thing for someone to do."