The Gift Of Life

A Daughter’s Selfless Act Helps Her Dad Get Back On The Ice

 

Like any parent, Jim Coleman would gladly give an arm and a leg for his kids. Ask his daughter, Shannon, what she would give to her father and her answer is an easy one – a kidney.

Hockey has long been a huge part of the Coleman family’s life. Jim’s father played hockey and, as the youngest of eight, he grew up learning the game from his older brothers. He went on to have kids of his own – Shannon and her three older brothers – so it was only natural for them to follow in their footsteps. The sport had easily become a family affair spanning generations.

Jim moved into coaching, while Shannon went on to play college hockey at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. Shortly after returning home, she joined her dad as an assistant coach with his high school team before eventually ending up in her position as the head coach of the Chicago Mission’s Girls 12 & Under team.

Things seemed to be falling into place for Shannon, who works as an elementary and special education teacher during the day, and Jim, who recently retired following a decorated 32-year career as a firefighter. That was until Jim’s kidneys started to fail.

After being the bench boss for more than half his life, hockey suddenly took a backseat. Evening practices were replaced with at-home dialysis, something both his wife, Cindy, and Shannon were trained to administer.

“For the past 30 years, the only time he wasn’t coaching was when he was doing dialysis,” Shannon said. “He got to do it at home, which was nice, but it was a pain. I have two brothers that live out of state and if [my parents] wanted to go see their grandkids, they had to think about dialysis.

“It was just the priority in their life and I thought ‘enough is enough.’”

After four years of dialysis, it came time to consult with a surgeon about a necessary transplant. Shannon and her brother, Ryan, went with to get tested, despite Jim’s disapproval.

“No way, I didn’t want them to,” the 60-year-old father recalled. “They’re young, they may need their kidney down the road. Shannon basically said if she was a match, it’s a go. She wasn’t taking no for an answer.”

Shannon ended up being a perfect match.

“I only need one [kidney],” Shannon said. “I just wanted him to take it and get his life back.”

On July 27, 2019, the Saturday before the surgery, the Colemans gathered for their annual family skate. Typically, it’s their tradition on Thanksgiving but, given the circumstances, friends, family, players and teammates came together to give Jim a send-off the only way they knew how – playing hockey. 

Four days later, the kidney transplant was successful and, on Aug. 12, Shannon was back on the ice for the start of the season. Shortly after, Jim joined her as an assistant coach, affectionately known by the team as “Coach Dad.”

Shannon says she’s seen the change in her dad, from having more energy to gaining a little weight. Jim works out every morning and finds time to skate whenever he can. His hockey skills have diminished, but he says that has nothing to do with kidney disease.

For his 27-year-old daughter, without the scar, she says she’d forget she was even missing an organ. But she is sure to remind her dad when she needs to.

“It worked out perfectly because this year, when I needed an assistant coach, I said ‘hey, remember that kidney I gave you? You have to be my assistant now.’”

Jim says he couldn’t feel more blessed. His checkups are down to once every couple of months, and his most recent one came back with perfect kidney function. But, for him, the best part about it all is being behind the bench again.

“I traded off doing dialysis at night to being back on the ice,” he said. “Now, I get to go to practice with Shannon during the week. It’s amazing that I can be out there and be a part of what’s happening.”

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