SAN FRANCISCO — Any sports fan knows that to win a championship, you have to give it everything you’ve got. University of San Francisco (USF) baseball coach of 13 years, Nino Giarratano, helped coach his team to do exactly that, leading them to just their second ever NCAA tournament berth in the school’s history. What Giarratano’s players and family didn’t know, was at the end of the season, he would give more than just his knowledge and expertise on the field.
Giarratano’s 80-year-old father, Mickey, had gallbladder surgery at the end of last fall. What was supposed to be a short recovery ended up being a 45 day stay in the hospital. “My doctor said, ‘…your kidneys have shut down, and [we] have no answer why they shut down,’” Mickey says. He was then told he would need three four-hour dialysis treatments a week for the rest of his life. After asking what his options were besides dialysis, the doctor informed Mickey he could either attempt to get a transplant, or die. At 80-years-old, Mickey would not be on the top of any transplant lists. This was when Nino began to consider donating his kidney to his father.
Certain of his decision, Nino called his mother and told her that he wanted to give his dad a kidney. Nino had not consulted with his wife, or anyone for that matter, and asked that his mother keep it a secret until he was ready to tell everyone. Then, during a visit to Colorado that Christmas, Nino told his father of his decision saying, “All these years you and mom have given me everything – the least I could do is give you a kidney.” So, Mickey accepted.
Medical tests confirmed that Nino was a good match as a donor, but one obstacle still laid before the Giarratano’s: The 2011 USF baseball season was just getting underway and the surgery would have to wait until the end of the season. After a long season that included a West Coast Conference (WCC) Championship Title, a trip to the playoffs, and a third WCC Coach of the Year honor for Nino, the season finally ended on June 15. A gift eight months in planning, Nino would now be able to travel to Denver and give his father a kidney.
The surgery, which took place on July 11, lasted about five and a half hours. After the surgery, Nino was visibly sick, so much so, that his mother could only bear to be in his room for a short time. A nurse asked if there was anywhere he would like to go and Nino jokingly responded, “If you could get me to Yankee Stadium from this bed right here, I’d sure be happy.” Nino then asked to see his father. After working for about two hours to gain enough strength to walk, he was able to visit his father, who was doing well in recovery.
It has been over three and half months since the surgery, and both Nino and Mickey are in great health. Nino is back to work and was recently given a six-year contract extension by the USF Dons. Mickey is now able to enjoy his life and play golf again.
In a courageous and selfless act, Nino gave one of his kidneys to prolong his father’s life. “I don’t feel any different. I don’t feel superhuman like sometimes people look at me. I just feel the same. I think it was something I was faced with and hopefully somewhere down the road if this makes the world a better place, then good for it,” Nino said. “It’s out of character for me to want to be in the spotlight like this, but I want to become an advocate and speak for organ donors. The goal is to use my story to help find the world more good organ donors and more people willing to give life.”
Mickey raves, “A lot of people have come up to me over the years and said, ‘Nino is a special coach.’ You know what I tell them? I tell them, ‘Nino is a special son.'”
A special son and a special man, indeed. We are honored to present Coach Giarratano with a Gold Star for his incredible gift of himself both on, and off the field.
- A special thanks to our friends at Top Prospect Alert for the tip on this story!
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