J.T. Rhodes – A Remembrance
I am honored to write about a dear friend and an inspirational man I truly admired. I first met J.T. back in October of 1995, about a year and a half after my first kidney transplant. He was part of a small group of recipients who met once a month at a local hospital to talk about their transplant experiences. We quickly became friends and a few months later, travelled together to the U.S. Transplant Games in Salt Lake City. Over the coming years, we would travel together to four other U.S. Games and the World Transplant Games in Sydney, Australia…but it was through TRIO where I really got to know J.T. It didn’t take long for me to discover that helping transplant patients live better lives was J.T.'s passion.
Our local support group was chartered as a chapter of TRIO in early 1996 and J.T. was elected as Chapter President. Our group started out small but quickly grew under J.T.’s leadership. He constantly encouraged our involvement and challenged us to discover new ways to raise donor awareness. But our monthly meetings were about much more than discussing donor awareness activities. As a service to our members, J.T. made sure that we, as recipients, continued to be educated about our new lives. Nearly every month, an area physician, surgeon, or other specialist would come speak to us on a topic related to transplant. Support was also key. At every meeting, J.T. ensured that everyone, both members and visitors to our group, had the opportunity to share their questions and concerns. It is J.T.’s unquestioning and undying love for transplant patients that continues to be so inspirational.
For all of you who never had the opportunity to know J.T. or to know of his work, let me assure you, he either attended, volunteered for, or helped organize far more than I could possibly list here. Not only would I risk boring you with a very long list, but I risk forgetting some of the most important things J.T. accomplished. But it would not be fair to J.T. if I did not list some of what most stands out.
He was President of TRIO of Northeast Florida for over 12 years.
- He served as President of TRIO National for four years, from 2006 to 2010 and served as a member of the National Board of Directors for 8 additional years.
- He attended nearly every U.S. and World Transplant Games in his 20 years as a recipient.
- He led our chapter in the planning and organizing the 2005 TRIO National Conference held here in Jacksonville. The conference was attended by TRIO members from around the country and some very noteworthy speakers, including liver recipient Pat Summerall and heart recipient and owner of the Orlando Magic, Rich DeVos.
- He also led our chapter by heading up the first Donate Life Day, now in its 9th year. DLD is a community event designed to educate people about organ and tissue donation.
- He helped Mayo Clinic Jacksonville open their transplant program by leading a letter-writing campaign to then-governor Lawton Chiles.
- He assisted in establishing a transplant patient mentoring program in cooperation with an area transplant center.
Under J.T.’s leadership our TRIO chapter also:
- Held awards banquets honoring transplant physicians, nurses, and other transplant specialists.
- Hosted annual Christmas Day dinners for transplant patients needing to stay in Jacksonville over the holidays.
- Volunteered for area donor awareness and fund-raising events hosted by other area transplant organizations.
- Sent Thanksgiving fruit baskets to all of the area dialysis centers for their patients and staff.
The extent of J.T.’s work in helping his fellow recipients was simply incredible. He never turned down an opportunity to serve the transplant community.
As active as he was in TRIO, J.T. kept very busy with other aspects of his life. He worked fulltime as a CPA, he exercised daily at the nearby YMCA, took long bike rides on weekends, enjoyed boat rides out on the nearby St. Johns River, and was a huge Florida Gator fan, attending home football games whenever he could. Those who knew J.T. also knew his little dog, Rosie, who he loved and adored.
I couldn’t possibly complete an article about J.T. without talking about what many people loved most about him…his zest for life. It was hard to find a time when J.T. was not smiling or laughing. His laughter was hearty and contagious. Wherever J.T. went, fun and laughter were not far behind. I am reminded of an on-going joke that we had: He and I roomed together at every Transplant Games we both attended, and as we packed getting ready to head home each time, he would joke and laugh about losing all of his gold medals once again. “I don’t know where they went! I had 5 gold medals and now I can’t find them!” Yes, there were parts of life J.T. took very seriously, but he never lost his love for laughter.
As I look back on the past 18 years, I see J.T. as a beacon of hope. He stood strong, often in the face of adversity, for transplant patients. He fought tirelessly to help patients get desperately needed organs and to help recipients live longer, healthier lives. His compassion and conviction in serving his fellow recipients were unyielding. I admire and stand in awe of all that he accomplished, and all that he was as a human being. I think if he could say one last thing to us it would be, “Enjoy life, don’t take a single day for granted, and use your blessings in the service of others.”
So long, my good friend. I miss you greatly but look to the day when we meet again.