A neighborhood resident tests her limits to help her ailing sibling

Next month, Angela Tortorice faces one of the toughest challenges of her life. She’ll compete in an Ironman Triathlon, a grueling race that combines a 2.4-mile swim with a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile run.

She’ll be doing it for her brother, Johnny Waddle, who’s also undergoing the toughest challenge of his life: battling auto-immune hepatitis, a disease that is fatal without a liver transplant.

Tortorice decided to compete in the triathlon several months ago, when her family learned they had to raise $200,000 before Waddle would be placed on the waiting list for a new liver. Having run several marathons and a few half Ironman triathlons, she decided to enter the event to help raise the money.

“I had been thinking about doing it, but I didn’t know when I would. It’s such a time-consuming thing,” she says. “As my brother got sicker, I realized it’d be a great thing to do for him. It just all fell into place.”

Waddle had been given only weeks to live when he learned last month that Medicaid would pay for most of the transplant costs. He since has received a new liver and is recovering well. But his family still must pay an estimated $50,000 in expenses not covered by Medicaid, along with the ongoing expense of anti-rejection medicines.

Tortorice hopes to pay a significant part of those expenses with donations raised through the triathlon.

“God has totally blessed us with Medicaid covering the transplant,” she says. “But we’re still moving forward with the fund-raising plans. He probably won’t ever be able to work the way he used to, so we’re just trying to do everything we possibly can to help.”

She trains daily for the triathlon, before and after work and on the weekends. She swims five miles a week on her lunch breaks, runs 40 miles a week in the mornings and weekends, and bikes 180 miles a week somewhere in between.

Doing each element of the race individually is no problem, she says. Putting them all together, though, is another matter entirely. Still, Tortorice says she’s confident she’ll finish the event — not because she’s a super athlete, but because she has great endurance, along with a great reason for competing.

“Friends who’ve done it before say when you cross the finish line it’s the most awesome feeling, a feeling you’ve never felt before,” she says. “I know when I finish, it’s just gonna be a double whammy, doing it for my brother. It’ll be a wonderful thing, and he’ll be one of the first people I call.”

To donate to the Liver Transplant Fund in honor of Johnny Waddle, visit www.transplantfund.org or call 214-812-5002.

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