LUBBOCK, Texas – Mike Leach, the iconic college football coach that died due to heart complications on Monday, is giving the gift of life, even at his death.
Leach’s passion for organ donation wasn’t new. It dated back to at least August 2008 when he filmed a public service announcement with a young liver transplant recipient near Jones AT&T Stadium.
The August 2008 public service announcement said in part:
“Thanks to organ donors, thousands of men, women and children are alive today,” Leach said. “Peter Griffith is one of them.”
“I got my new liver just in time,” Griffith said. “Others aren’t that lucky.”
Like many others, Griffith was struggling with the loss of Leach. He decided to reflect back on that time when he stood side by side with his hero who loved football and was a long-time advocate of organ donation – just like him.
“Mike Leach was Mike Leach, and he didn’t care if you didn’t like it, he didn’t care if you loved it, he was just going to be who he was,” Griffith said. “I think that means even more now, having had the opportunity to do that with him. Now, it’s coming full circle and he’s having the opportunity to bless other families.”
Griffith was born in Lubbock with a rare liver disorder called biliary atresia. He was just 6 months old back in 1996 when the transplant happened.
“It came from a little girl who’d unfortunately passed away, but her family had made the choice to use her organs as donations to other families,” Griffith said. “Because of their sacrifice, and what they gave to me and others, I’ve lived a completely normal life ever since that.”
According to Stanford Medicine, biliary atresia occurs in infants and is often found shortly after birth. The disorder affects tubes in the liver called bile ducts and must be treated with surgery. It is the most common cause of liver transplants in children in the U.S. If not treated with surgery, it can be fatal.
“I’m here today because of an organ donor, and there are millions of people around the world who are as well,” Griffith said. “I don’t think there is a more noble or last act than to pass on the gift of life.”
In a statement shared by Mississippi State University, Leach’s family said:
“Mike was a giving and attentive husband, father and grandfather. He was able to participate in organ donation at UMMC as a final act of charity.”
University Transplant at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), where Leach’s family said he donated his organs, is the state’s only transplant program.
“This was a cause that was close to the coach’s heart and a mission that he fully supported,” said Lauren Quinn, vice president of external relations at LifeGift. “The fact that he was able to pass his own organs on, I think is really meaningful to his family.”
LifeGift is a nonprofit that supports families through the organ and tissue donation process and delivers life-saving transplants to the recipients who need them.
According to LifeGift, over 106,000 people are waiting for a transplant in the U.S., and around 10,000 of those are Texans.
“Coach Leach was known throughout his career and even in his personal life as a giver and known for his generosity,” Quinn said. “I think the act of donation is the ultimate act of generosity. This becomes part of his legacy. There is no deeper gift, or more impactful gift, than the gift of life.”
The August 2008 public service announcement continued:
“I’m coach Mike Leach,” Leach said. “Be a winner. Join the Red Raiders and register to become an organ and tissue donor.”
14 years have passed since that public service announcement.
Griffith is now married to his wife, Sara, and they have two kids, John Luke and Brady. He’s working his dream job as head football coach of his alma mater, Kingdom Preparatory Academy.
Just like Griffith, because of organ donations like Leach’s, others can continue swinging their swords.
“When his time came, he made the decision to be an organ donor himself,” Griffith said. “There’s a part of Mike Leach that’s going to live on. Not just his legacy on the football field, which will be felt from high school all the way through the NFL, but literally, a part of him will live on.”
To learn more about LifeGift or the donation process, visit the LifeGift website.
By registering to be an organ, eye and tissue donor, you can save or improve as many as 75 lives. To register, visit the Donate Life Texas website.