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Transforming tragedy into a miracle: Childhood friend helps man receive double organ transplant

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10 2013 9:54 a.m. MST

Chad Coates, left, received a liver and pancreas from Mark Koener, right, who died in a car accident in October. Koener was the uncle of Coates' lifelong friend Rob Osburne. Coates has Type 1 diabetes and Osburne wanted to help his friend. All three men were close in age, and Mark Koener and Rob Osburne have known Coates since the time his diabetes emerged. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) Chad Coates, left, received a liver and pancreas from Mark Koener, right, who died in a car accident in October. Koener was the uncle of Coates' lifelong friend Rob Osburne. Coates has Type 1 diabetes and Osburne wanted to help his friend. All three men were close in age, and Mark Koener and Rob Osburne have known Coates since the time his diabetes emerged. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A family’s tragedy gave one man a new lease on life.

When Chad Coates makes the trip from Twin Falls, Idaho, to University Hospital, it’s a tough drive in many ways.

“I hate being poked and prodded,” Coates said.

But as much as he hates the hospital visits, it’s better than the alternative.

“I know that if I don’t, I won’t be here for my family,” Coates said, thinking of his wife and three teenage children.

Coates had been living with Type 1 diabetes since he was 12 years old.

“(I) have a needle shoved in my arm four times a week,” he said, describing his routine insulin shots to stay alive.

“Diabetes ravages you,” said Dr. Jeffrey Campsen, University Hospital's surgical director for living donation. “Even though insulin puts it at bay, it still completely eats away at their bodies.”

But now Coates' diabetes is gone, and he is healthy thanks to a childhood friend.

Rob Osburne said he and Coates have a much deeper connection because Osburne’s family made a decision that saved Coates’ life.

Osburne’s uncle, Mark Koener, died in a car crash in October. Osburne said his uncle was like a brother to him. His death was another blow to the family because Koener’s mother had died one month earlier in a car crash. His family wanted to donate his organs.

“(Coates is) the only one that I knew that needed a transplant,” Osburne said. “When my mother said that she was going to donate his organs, I just put two and two together real quick.”

Coates said he was sound asleep one Sunday morning when his friend called and told him he wanted to donate his uncle’s kidney and pancreas. Coates immediately called University Hospital to see if he would be a match.

On Oct. 23, after six hours of surgery, Coates’ body functioned better with a new kidney and pancreas.

“It’s a day that my life began again,” he said. “It’s hard for me to think that somebody’s got to die to help me to live.”

All three men were close in age, and Koener and Osburne have known Coates since about the same time his diabetes emerged. Koener's sister, Diana, said she just wanted something good to come out of the tragedy.

“Chad made the comment to me, 'Now we're blood-related,’” Diana Koener remembered. “And I said, 'Yes, I lost a little brother and gained a little brother.'”

Osburne said his uncle made a generous gift that will have a lasting impact.

“He was the type that always wanted to make a mark somehow,” he said.

For Coates, the scar on his stomach is that mark, a generous gift, permanently etched over his stomach and his heart.

“They say miracles don’t happen,” he said. “This was a miracle.”

The Koener family does not know the other families who received his other kidney and liver, but they hope those organs also saved lives.

Email: niyamba@deseretnews.com

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