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A gift that means life

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By Josh Cook

When University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari speaks, Big Blue Nation listens.

But more than his rants and ruminations on Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer, Archie Goodwin and Alex Poythress, there is one thing in particular that I hope BBN is hearing and paying attention to these days, it’s Cal’s radio commercial about organ donation.

In it he says, “Your Kentucky Wildcats are champions of college basketball. Now you can be a champion too, a champion of life. It’s simple. Become a registered organ donor. Say ‘Yes,’ when you renew your driver’s license. Say ‘Yes,’ to saving lives. Donate life Kentucky. Join the Kentucky [Organ] Donor Registry.”

This is something that hits very close to home for me. To explain I’ll tell you a story about my best friend, Jeff, and his son.

Jeff and I became friends in high school, and like many of my friendships born during that time – friendships that still exist today – we bonded over sports. It was something we talked about before school, during school and after school.

Jeff particularly loved baseball, so much so in fact that after he and his wife found out she was pregnant with a boy, about year after they married, he already had his son’s first name picked out. They named him Nolan, after Jeff’s favorite baseball player, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.

When Nolan was born, he seemed like a perfectly healthy baby. A couple of weeks later, though, he began vomiting uncontrollably. His parents rushed him, first to their local hospital in Southern Indiana, then across the river to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville.

However doctors there couldn’t initially figure out what was making Nolan sick, so he was whisked into surgery. A problem was discovered with his small intestine. Nolan had a malrotation, or twisting, in his small bowel that prevented his food from passing through the digestive tract. The organ was so severely twisted, in fact, that its blood supply was choked off.

Nolan had several more operations to remove dead portions of the intestine, which continued to get smaller and smaller. Because of the problems with his intestine Nolan had to be fed intravenously. That, in turn, began to take its toll on his liver, which was beginning to deteriorate, too.   

With the conditions of both Nolan’s small intestine and liver rapidly declining, it was surmised that the only thing that could save Nolan’s life would be a double-organ transplant. His name was placed on a national transplant list.

Jeff, his wife and Nolan anxiously waited for a donor as they basically lived at Kosair. The couple celebrated their wedding anniversary there, and on Halloween they dressed up Nolan and went trick-or-treating in the hospital.  

However, as the days turned into weeks and the weeks became months, Nolan’s condition declined. His skin began taking on a yellow hue as his liver moved closer to failure.

As Thanksgiving passed and December began, it became clear that Nolan needed a transplant soon, very soon.

That was a little more than 10 years ago.

Today Nolan, who received a life-saving liver and small bowel transplant in December of 2002, turns 11. I’m very pleased to report that he is now a happy, healthy, extremely smart boy, who now has a younger brother and sister.

Nolan, however, wouldn’t be here today if he hadn’t received that “gift,” the gift of life.

He is the reason why my driver’s license says I am an organ donor. He is also the reason why I urge anyone and everyone to become an organ donor.

But don’t do it because Coach Cal, or I, suggest it, do it for Nolan. Do it to give someone like him a second chance at life.