October 11, 2006 - Dianne Miller entered the 10th Annual Australian Transplant Games with the same sentiment as the 1,200 athletes she was there to compete against. They were all happy to have a second chance at life.
The Oro Valley resident left the games held in Geelong, Victoria with 16 medals - 14 of them gold - and a new nickname for her exploits in the pool where she became the first person to sweep the swimming category.
Among her transplant peers, Miller is known as "the dolphin."
Aside from her medals in the pool, Miller, 58, also won top honors in track and field and the softball throw. Her medal count was tops on Team USA and second overall among competition from England, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand and the United States in the Olympic-style games.
Ten of her medals came in the pool, where she swept the 50-59 year-old age bracket against some tough competition. Her times were good enough to win both the 30 and 40-year-old age brackets.
As little as 28 months ago, none of this would have been possible.
The end was perilously near for Miller as the Oro Valley resident lay on her deathbed in a Phoenix hospital.
Her once petite frame had swollen to more than twice its size, machines were now pumping her heart, feeding her and breathing for the 56-year-old.
One-by-one her organs betrayed her body, which was now slipping into renal failure, the result of a silver dollar-sized liver that was the first to go.
Doctors were baffled trying to determine what could cause the liver of a healthy woman, who never had been a drinker and had no signs of disease, to simply shrivel up and die.
Clinging to life in a five-day coma, Miller had other desires as well as the intense will to live. She wanted to get back to the pool, even though it had been 43 years since she last swam.
"When you're dying, there are certain things you want to do and I wanted to swim again," said Miller. "I really wanted to swim."
With the clock ticking, the news Miller and her family wanted to hear finally arrived. A donor had been found.
It's been 28 months since a new liver has given her a new life and already Miller is back in the water and on the tennis courts, long before doctors anticipated.
"I'm real bullheaded and in three months I was playing tennis," said Miller about her recovery.
Her new life has bred a new attitude. Back on the mainland of the United States, Miller swims five days a week and is a member of the El Conquistador Country Club's tennis team.
"Give me a sport and I'll do it," she said.
This wasn't Miller's first foray into the world of Transplant Games. In June, Miller took home four gold medals in swimming and singles tennis at the U.S. Transplant Games in Louisville, Ky.
With Australia under her swim cap, Miller now begins training for the World Transplant Games. The games, which will be held next July in Thailand, will feature transplant athletes from 40 countries.
Her current times would place her in the area of a bronze medal against transplant game powerhouse countries such as Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, and Norway. Times in the Miller's age bracket are similar to those swum at the Senior Olympics. Transplant Games are different, however, because competition ranges from all ages.
But all of Miller's medals and accolades would not be had it not been for a donated liver. The green LiveStrong-style wristbands around each of her arms are a daily reminder of that. The right arm says "Donate Life" and left "Life, live it then give it."
Miller's new liver previously belonged to a 24-year-old Sonoma, Calif., woman who was killed in an auto accident and not wearing a seatbelt.
Miller is now championing for transplantation, citing professional athletes such as Sean Elliot (kidney), Alonzo Mourning (kidney) and Chris Klug (liver) among the inspiring stories of those who have thrived post-transplant.
But you don't need big bucks or the will to reach the top of the sports world to lead a long life after receiving a donated organ. The biggest part is staying healthy by eating right and maintaining an exercise regimen, said Miller.
More importantly, Miller stresses the importance of getting on the national donor list, which now includes her five grandchildren.
"It's really not about me," said a humble Miller. "It's about transplantation and that's why I'm here because transplantation works. I'm proof."