Norwalk woman cheers for son's liver recipient at Transplant Games

Cary Ashby • Sep 18, 2018 at 2:00 AM

Kathi Flew and her husband Russ have become close friends with the man who was the organ recipient of their son’s liver.

Five people were organ recipients from Dylan Flew, who died in 2006 after a motorcycle accident. There were 79 tissue recipients. Blase Budziak, of Kirtland, received the 2003 Norwalk High School graduate’s liver.

Budziak was the first organ recipient the Flews met in November 2015.

“We literally have extended families. I probably speak to his wife (Bonnie) a couple times a week. She usually calls on the way (home) from work,” Kathi Flew said.

Flew and her husband have met three of the five recipients of their son’s organs. In addition to Budziak, Findlay resident Jason Leone received the pancreas while Chris Zunk, of Martin, received a kidney.

“We have recipient families who are more like a family than our own,” Kathi Flew said. “It’s humbling. … You automatically feel close to them.”

Presently Flew’s photo, with a message advocating for organ and tissue donation, is on 425 tractor-trailers across the country. His likeness is on semis from Hyway Trucking Co. The CEO of the Findlay-based company and Life Connection of Ohio organized the ongoing campaign.

To support her friend Budziak and other organ recipients, Flew went to Salt Lake City to attend the Transplant Games of America. Budziak competed in several events during the week — track, volleyball, pickleball and the 400-meter run. Area organ procurement organizations sponsor the games. The national event happens every two years.

“It’s like the Olympics for organ and tissue recipients. … The world games are on the odd years,” said Flew, who bowled with Budziak for a non-medal bowling event. “Anyone of any skill can find something to compete in.”

Budziak, an avid runner, won the bronze medal in the 400-meter run.

“I got to put that on him; that was really cool,” said Flew, who attended many events to cheer for and support other organ recipients. “I was running around like a crazy person, trying to see as many competitions as possible.”

The oldest competitor was an 89-year-old man from Team Ohio.

“He actually did the shot put from his wheelchair,” Flew said. “They said there were 8,000 people in Salt Lake City; about 5,000 of them were recipients and 461 of (the total) were donor families.”

Dylan Flew was just nine days shy of turning 21 on July 31, 2006. He was riding his motorcycle with friends on Old Plank Road (formerly Shawmill Road), near U.S. 250 outside of Milan, when one of the other riders lost control and hit Flew’s bike, causing both of them to be ejected. Flew wasn’t wearing a helmet and received injuries that eventually proved fatal.

Budziak had been experiencing liver failure before receiving Flew’s organ. 

“He was brought in for another (one) actually that fell through for whatever reason,” Kathi Flew said. “He’s a runner; he couldn’t do it anymore.”

When Budziak heard Dylan’s liver was available, he was skeptical or even had guarded optimism. 

“His doctor told him it was a race horse,” Flew said, referring to the high-quality organ. “Dylan was a runner; he was in soccer. He could run a six-minute mile in just over five minutes.”

At Norwalk, he was a stand-out athlete on the soccer and track teams.

“He (Budziak) got right back into running,” Kathi Flew said.

The Norwalk woman has been an avid supporter of the Transplant Games of America ever since Life Connection of Ohio invited her to the 2012 games in Grand Rapids, Mich. Life Connection is an independent, non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates organ donation in the Toledo and Dayton areas. It oversaw Dylan’s donations.

“The whole reason they’re doing (the games) is because they can,” Flew said, referring to the organ recipients. “(Their philosophy is) I’m here and able to participate because of my donor.”

Flew has attended three games. The 2019 world event is in England and the nationals will be in New Jersey the following year.

“I’ve never been to an event where everyone cheers more for the last person than the first person; it’s amazing,” Flew said.

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