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‘Organ Trail’ rider to be in city today

Submitted photo Bicyclist Mark Scotch will be riding through Dunkirk today.

By ANTHONY DOLCE

adolce@observertoday.com

For the second time this year, Mark Scotch of Plover, Wisc., is setting off on “The Organ Trail,” a cycling route that will take him all the way from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. back to Wisconsin. This marathon bike ride is held to raise awareness for kidney disease, as well as living donors, and post-donation functionality. And today, Scotch’s journey will bring him through Dunkirk.

“The Organ Trail is all about generating awareness for the need for kidney donors, especially living kidney donors, but it’s also about showing people that even with one kidney, you can still lead a life full of activities, even if those activities are sustained and vigorous,” said Scotch.

Scotch departed Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 19. He passed through New York City, into upstate New York and will move on to Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, while coming back to his hometown in Wisconsin on Saturday, Oct. 16. The journey encompasses a total of 1,600 miles.

Scotch, 65, is himself a living kidney donor and marathon cyclist and found inspiration for his first run in early 2020. Scotch met Hugh Smith, 56, at Cane River Brewing in Smith’s hometown of Natchitoches, La. Smith, who used to be a professional horse jockey, had suffered frequent injuries, forcing him to take ibuprofen for an extended period of time. The extensive use of painkillers led to damage in his kidneys, sending him into severe renal failure while requiring him to have daily dialysis. Despite the fact the two had just met, Scotch knew he wanted to donate one of his kidneys to Smith.

“After my commitment to give Hugh a kidney, I started to educate myself on kidney donations,” Scotch wrote on the Organ Trail website. “It was about that time that I thought, ‘Hey! Why not ride my bicycle to Louisiana for the surgery?’ “ Then I started wondering … would I have to stop doing such nonsense due to having only one kidney? I found out through research, that absolutely, one does not have to stop.”

While Scotch’s kidney wasn’t a direct match for Smith, Scotch knew he still wanted to give his kidney to someone in need. Smith was one of nearly 100,000 Americans waiting for a life-saving transplant, so Scotch was matched with someone in need through the National Kidney Registry Voucher Program. Once the kidney donation was complete, Scotch named Smith as the person he wanted to benefit, which gave Smith higher priority on the transplant list.

“The voucher system let me do everything at my local hospital while Hugh went to his local hospital in Jackson, Miss., and gave Hugh higher priority on the transplant list,” said Scotch.

In September 2020, Scotch got his kidney match with a compatible person from New York and successfully donated his kidney. In early 2021, Smith also received his kidney from a donor in California and is looking to return to work soon, while his doctors are pleased with his recovery to this point.

Now, Scotch has learned a lot about organ donation through his own research and experience and wants to give back as much as he can, on top of already giving his kidney. So to increase awareness, celebrate Smith, and prove that donors can return to their previous levels of activity with a single kidney, Scotch put his skills on a bike to use. In the beginning parts of 2021, Scotch completed the first Organ Trail, cycling from the location he donated his kidney in Madison to Natchitoches, where he first met Smith.

While around 3,000 people are added to the kidney waiting list monthly and 13 people die every day because of a kidney shortage, Scotch plans to continue raising awareness through the Organ trail. Scotch stopped at the University of Rochester Medical Center on Thursday, then in the Niagara Falls area before making a stop on his noble quest for a day in Dunkirk.

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