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UT's Kowalczyk honored with award for organ donation awareness

10/11/2017, 2:00pm EDT

Organ donation is a cause close to basketball coach’s heart


University of Toledo men’s basketball coach Tod Kowalczyk has seen first-hand the profound impact that organ donation can have.

Trey Schwab, Kowalczyk’s old colleague at Marquette and longtime friend, received a double lung transplant in 2003.

“When I was an assistant coach at Marquette from 2000-2002, in 2001 we hired a guy named Trey Schwab,” Kowalczyk said. “Within a month of him working for us, he became very sick and found out he had a very rare lung disease. He had to get on the transplant list and waited for three years. He finally found a match and had a double lung transplant, which is extremely hard to get. He and I were just really good friends. Because of him I just really took that cause on.”

Thanks to his double lung transplant, Schwab lived 12 more years before he died on March 20, 2016.

“I remember when he had his transplant in 2003, asking the doctors after the surgery, ‘What is the life expectancy?’ ” Kowalczyk said. “The doctor told me the average is roughly seven years, and he lived for 12 years. The individual that donated their lungs gave one of my closest friends 12 years of happiness and a great quality of life during that time too.”

Since that time Kowalczyk and his wife Julie have been advocates for the cause of organ donation.

In his time at Toledo, Kowalczyk has championed the cause through in-game messages and radio advertisements. Then last season, UT and Life Connection of Ohio, an independent nonprofit organization promoting organ donation in northwest and west central Ohio, partnered for the Rockets for Life game on Feb. 24 against Central Michigan to raise awareness for the cause.

For his many efforts to raise awareness, Kowalczyk was recently awarded the Donate Life Champion Award from Donate Life America.

Donate Life America is a nonprofit organization based in Richmond, Va., whose mission is to increase the number of donated organs and promote transplants in order to save lives.

Previous Donate Life Champion Award winners include Michael Jordan, Boomer Esiason, and Robin Roberts.

"Life Connection of Ohio is grateful to Coach Kowalczyk for his incredible support and dedication to raising awareness about organ, eye, and tissue donation," said Kara Steele, Life Connection of Ohio's Director of Community Services. "Coach Kowalczyk is so deserving of this national recognition through the Donate Life Champion Award. His partnership with Life Connection of Ohio has inspired people to save lives through donation."

Kowalczyk received his award during the UT football game against Eastern Michigan last Saturday. He was presented with the award by Ashley Sheeks-Butler, a Life Connection of Ohio volunteer who was celebrating 10 years since her double lung transplant.

“I’m unbelievably humbled, but at the same time a bit embarrassed because I’m not in this cause to get awards,” Kowalczyk said. “I never dreamed I would get a national award for a cause that is unselfish and selfless. I certainly appreciate the fact that I was recognized. If during the football game, that helps getting more people involved in it, then that is awesome.”

Kowalczyk hopes that his message about the power of organ donation will provide a positive example for his players.

“As a basketball coach and a leader of an organization, it is no different than a CEO,” Kowalczyk said. “You try to get your people that are working with you to be unbelievably unselfish and selfless. We coach, preach, and teach that every single day. To me, there is no greater sign of selflessness or unselfishness than giving up an organ to save someone else’s life. We talk to our players about it and talk to anyone who will listen to please get out there and be a donor.”

Contact Brian Buckey at bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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Tag(s): College  Toledo