Bicycling for Lifesaving Organ, Blood Donations; His Personal Story Motivated Firefighter to Bike from Seattle to Raise Awareness

By Mitchell, Tia | The Florida Times Union, October 17, 2004 | Go to article overview

Bicycling for Lifesaving Organ, Blood Donations; His Personal Story Motivated Firefighter to Bike from Seattle to Raise Awareness


Mitchell, Tia, The Florida Times Union


Byline: TIA MITCHELL, The Times-Union

The journey began 18 years ago, when a 3-year-old Jacksonville boy received a life-saving heart transplant and his dad grieved for other parents whose children weren't so lucky.

Since then, Terry Dennis has encouraged others to support donations like the one that saved his son. In fact, he spent the past eight weeks riding a bicycle across the country to raise awareness about the cause that hit so close to home.

The Five Points of Life Ride began in Seattle on Aug. 25. Dennis returned home Saturday, welcomed by a crowd of about 50 civilians and 50 firefighters who gathered at the Stockton Street fire tower.

"This is what it's all about here," Dennis said as he hopped off his bike and hugged his son.

Now a healthy 21-year-old, Matt Dennis joined his dad on the last leg, a 38-mile bike ride from St. Augustine. He said he struggled to keep up.

"It was rough [at first]," Matt Dennis said, adding that at the halfway point he re-energized before finishing with the rest of the group. "It was good the rest of the way."

He said he was proud of his father for joining the 13 amateur cyclists who crossed the country to raise awareness of the "five points of life:" organ/tissue, blood, apheresis (plasma, platelets and red blood cells), bone marrow and umbilical cord blood donations.

"He's in it because of other people like me," Matt Dennis said. "I got my heart and now other people need a heart, lungs and organs."

At the time of his operation, Matt Dennis was the youngest person in Florida to receive a heart transplant. Since then, Terry Dennis, a battalion chief for the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, has donated more than 10 gallons of blood and spent countless hours advocating for organ, tissue and blood donations.

Samantha Denmark, who received a new heart five months ago, came to the homecoming party to show her gratitude to Matt Dennis.

"He was 3 years old when he got his heart transplant and he's an inspiration to me," she said.

As her 5-year-old daughter, Brooke, played with other children, Denmark hugged the members of the team and shared her own story.

The bikers said they heard similar stories throughout their 4,000-mile trip, some heart-breaking and some encouraging. Those stories are what helped Terry Dennis keep going when his body wanted to give out.

"I would say, 'How can I not?' It just makes you push harder," he said. …

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