My dad made the media again. For those who haven't heard, a few weeks ago my dad donated his kidney to a friend and fellow coach. Apparently, its quiet rare for someone to help a friend in this way. Here is a follow up article on how him and Bill are doing and a more in-depth story on how all this came to be.
A few weeks have passed since Bill Hertle picked up the phone one Sunday and called John Tryon.
"I want to say happy Mother's Day to you," Hertle said.
Tryon was confused.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Well," Hertle said, "you're the mother of my kidney."
Mother of his what?
I feel sorry for you because you have 0 kidneys. I wish I could come to a football game. I hope you don't die. You are going to have 1 kidney and so is Mr. Tryon. You are very lucky."
-- Andrew, second-grader at Beechview Elementary in Farmington.
Hertle, 50, and Tryon, 53, were sitting near each other a couple of weeks ago, just as they had done for years when they were assistant coaches on Dan Loria's football staff at Bloomfield Hills Lahser.
This time, however, they were in Hertle's room at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
Also present were Tryon's two kidneys, but now his left one had taken up residence in Hertle's body.
On the day before Hertle turned 50, Dr. Jason Denny harvested Tryon's left kidney and placed it inside Hertle, who had lost both kidneys to disease.
And it all happened because of high school football.
"It's very cool and they come off the background of teamwork being football coaches," said Denny, a former all-state quarterback at Holy Trinity High School in New York. "Me playing football myself, you understand that the contribution to the group is often greater what you can get for yourself."
Connected for life
"Dear Mr. Hertle,
You are very lucky to have a friend like Mr. Tryon."
Jason, second-grader at Beechview Elementary in Farmington.
Bill Hertle was hunting in northern Michigan 19 years ago when he suffered severe stomach pains. He learned he had the same gene that led his father to have polycystic kidney disease, which causes clusters of cysts to develop in the kidneys and leads to kidney failure.
It took Hertle's father's life at age 51.
"My internist told me the time line, how my dad went through the disease, will be the same in terms of when it would fail and all that stuff," Hertle said. "I kind of had an idea that at 50 my kidneys would fail, which came to pass."
Hertle's first kidney was removed in 2008 and weighed 10 pounds, about 40 times the weight of a normal kidney.
"I lost a baby," he said.
Dialysis began two years ago and was anything but a picnic.
"Let me put it this way," Hertle said. "The first time they hooked me up I told them to unhook me, I was getting up and leaving. It's a lifestyle change -- four hours squat in a chair with a fistula in my arm so I had to keep the one arm straight and I had a blood pressure cup on the other. It's uncomfortable and it's a four-hour run.
"I could live another 25 years on dialysis, but I wouldn't want to."
Three months later Hertle was placed on a transplant list and continued dialysis that took a terrible toll on every aspect of his life.
And then John Tryon came along with some amazing news.
From football to friends
Hertle, 50, and Tryon, 53, were hired as assistant football coaches at Bloomfield Hills Lahser in 2001 when Dan Loria was putting together his first staff. Loria quickly realized both were knowledgeable football guys, and he also got a sense that Tryon was cut from a different cloth.
"When John (Tryon) interviewed I was explaining the money thing to him," Loria said. "He said he didn't want any money. He said to give it to someone else. He would be a volunteer coach, but he wanted to be a full-time volunteer."
Neither Hertle nor Tryon, who both played football at Bloomfield Hills Andover, was a teacher. Hertle had a printing business and Tryon was a financial planner, and the two grew closer the longer they coached together.
"At Lahser, the varsity coaches also coach JV," Tryon said. "Bill was the defensive coordinator for the JV and I was the offensive coordinator. Bill was also the head coach JV coach and we really became good friends then."
Tryon left after the 2005 season to begin the football program at Southfield Christian and returned to Lahser for the 2007 season.
Hertle, who became Lahser's varsity defensive coordinator, did his best not to let his kidney problems affect his coaching, but it was not easy, especially in 2008 when the Knights advanced to the Division 3 semifinals.
"In our regional championship against (Warren) Fitzgerald he came up to me sweating," Loria said. "He said: 'Dan, I don't know if I can do this anymore.' I told him it was up to him, I didn't want to take anything away from him. But he did it. I'd look at him on the sidelines and he was just dying."
Coaching is not Hertle's profession, it is his passion. If there was anything that kept him going through the dialysis, it was coaching.
"I fell in love with coaching high school football," he said. "It changed everything I did. I went back to school to get a teaching certificate to teach and coach. I haven't gotten there yet, but I'm working on that end."
Tryon no longer coaches, but he is around Lahser so much it is difficult to know that he is not on the staff.
He watched as Hertle struggled with kidney failure as he waited for a match.
"Whoever's willing to be tested as a donor -- God bless them -- gets tested," Hertle said. "My wife was a match, but at the 11th hour they canceled her out because she had kidney stones and other issues that excluded her from being a donor."
And that is when Tryon stepped forward.
"I was originally planning on getting tested, but I heard Sue matched so I stopped and didn't follow through," he said. "When I found out that fell through I thought it through quickly and started going through the process. It takes a long time."
The process took a year. In the meantime, Tryon checked with his four children, who all gave him to go-ahead. He also mentioned he was getting tested to be a donor to his girlfriend, Claire -- before he married her one year ago today.
"I guess that's why I married him," said Claire, who teaches second grade in Farmington. "That's just the way he is. He told me he wasn't put on this earth for just himself, this was the right thing to do."
A life-altering experience
The May 10 transplant did more than simply make Hertle and Tryon better friends. It merged two families.
"Oh my God," said Sue Hertle, who works at Lahser. "He comes in here to see Dan and I just want to hug him. I didn't know Claire that well, but now we're a big family."
Tryon jokes that the process leading up to the donation was good for him because he now had a clean bill of health.
"I got a bunch of medical tests for free -- colonoscopy, straight cauterization awake!" he said, laughing. "They did all the things I was supposed to have done when I turned 50 but hadn't. I have no issues."
There was a question about an artery that appeared to be wrapped around his kidney and the operation was scratched for a short time, but then rescheduled.
"I called Bill and told him it was on again and Bill was not excited at all," Tryon said. "He was emotionally drained by that point."
By then Hertle had tired of the emotional roller coaster and considered scrapping the entire process.
"I had been pulled out once because of my wife and then they second time with John," he said, shaking his head. "I was rethinking the whole thing at that time. Once I realized that I'd get another 20 years of life I'd go through with it."
Tryon respectfully disputes Hertle's math.
"He's going to get more than that," he said. "He's not a normal kidney patient. Most kidney patients are really sick from other things. Bill's not sick from anything other than this genetic thing, so he should live a normal life."
Throughout the process of being evaluated as donor, Tryon was asked by every doctor he met with if he was being paid to donate the kidney.
Other people simply asked if he was nuts.
His answer to everyone was simple: "With what I believe, it was a no-brainer. I would have to say everything I believed in my life was a lie if I didn't go through with this once I found out that I could help Bill."
Tryon doesn't worry that he would be in a life-threatening situation if anything happened to his only remaining kidney.
"I believe God takes care of me," he said. "Because of that I can focus on other people. This is just the epitome of that belief system."
An unselfish act
While Tryon tries to downplay his donation, what he has done is not lost on Dr. Jason Denny.
"It's awesome," the surgeon said. "A lot of times the lay person doesn't understand the sacrifice they are making. It's easy for them; they're still healthy and can live the same life, possibly a better life because now people have a tendency to take even better care of themselves because now they have one kidney.
"But the guy who is receiving the kidney -- his life is lengthened, so he gets a longer life, so it's life-saving that way and life-extending, and he doesn't have to be hooked to a machine three days a week for four hours at a time and all the complications that came with that. So he's changed Mr. Hertle's life quite a bit. He can go back to doing all of the things he was doing before."
That is why Hertle struggles to find words to voice his appreciation to the person who gave him his life back, the guy he used to coach football with.
"I thought it was the greatest thing in the world," he said. "Words can't ... I told him before; I don't know how a person can thank somebody for what he's doing. I don't know."
Tryon knows Hertle doesn't have to say another word.
"It goes both ways," Tryon said. "It's a privilege to be able to do this for Bill."
But there was one interesting aspect the doctors discovered during the transplant.
"The good part of this is, one of my kidneys had a very small kidney stone in it," Tryon said with a smirk as he pointed to Hertle. "He's got it now."
The transplant also provided Loria with a teachable life lesson he will be able to pass along from one team to the next for years to come.
"I'm real big in the football program about looking outside yourself and being a giver," Loria said. "I tell the kids one thing we're guaranteed in life is the opportunity to make life-long relationships and then this one hits us right in the face."
Actually, it was more like a kidney punch.
Article by Mick McCabe of the Detroit Free Press, 5/29/11