CENTERVILLE -- Watching her husband, Mark, endure a kidney transplant last May was difficult enough for Angela Ivory.
But without the emotional support of two other coaches’ wives who went through a similar experience, it could have been even worse.
Mark Ivory is the athletics director at Thompson Middle School. He was a star athlete in his day, coached by Chip Malone in middle school and Stan “The Man” Gann at Northside High School.
Both of those retired coaches underwent heart transplants in 2010, so their wives, Cynthia Malone and Sissi Gann, knew what Angela was going through, especially since football coaches can be a stubborn, Type-A-personality bunch during the best of times.
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“We have so much in common,” Angela Ivory said. “They had to live with their husbands going through a transplant. ... That’s the bond we have, just because of the similar things we had to go through.”
Though all three men had different factors that led to their transplants, much of the pre- and post-transplant routines were similar.
The three wives met for the first time as a group on a recent Friday in a Centerville tea room, and they spent much of the time swapping war stories -- which doctors and hospitals treated their husbands, what medications they’re on, what lifestyle habits the men in their lives were forced to change.
Now, all three women are actively trying to educate young and old alike about what it means to be an organ donor. Without those donations, all three women would likely be widows.
“Someone had to die for us,” Malone said. “(A transplant) impacts several families. I know there’s one angel that’s going to heaven.”
Heart of the matter
The Malones have spent much of their time talking to middle and high school students in Houston and surrounding counties about the importance of good heart health. Since February is American Heart Month, Cynthia Malone got the coaches, athletes and cheerleaders in all the middle and high school athletic programs in the county to switch to red shoelaces to promote the issue.
“One of the things we want to do is to raise awareness,” said Malone, who noted that heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
“People need to know that a lot of it is preventable. The only things that aren’t are family history and age, but everything else can be treated. ... We can’t get young people to understand that the key is being prepared.”
The Malones only became aware of Chip’s health issues in 1997 when all of the county’s coaches underwent mandatory physicals before the football season. The doctor told the Malones that Chip was diabetic and also had potential heart issues.
It was a wake-up call for the family. Cynthia Malone noted that she worked at Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. at the time and would bring home free cigarettes.
“He quit (smoking) cold turkey,” Cynthia Malone said of her husband, who’s now 58.
The Malones tried to make adjustments for Chip’s condition, but in 2010, a virus attacked his heart, necessitating a heart transplant in November.
By coincidence, the Ganns were at the same Atlanta hospital for one of Stanley’s post-transplant exams. Cynthia Malone had heard about Stan Gann’s heart issues. She had never met Sissi Gann until one day when Sissi poked her head inside Chip Malone’s hospital room.
“I heard about Stan, but I’d never met him,” Cynthia Malone said, nodding toward Sissi. “Then, one day, the door opens and I see that radiant smile. ... She told me, ‘You are in the right place.’ ”
“Stanley had come back for his six-week checkup and heard Chip was there,” she said. “We wanted to see him.”
Gann’s heart issues developed over a long period. He sustained his first heart attack in 1991, and had other attacks each of the following two years. He had surgeries and stents implanted, but eventually his heart wore out.
He was 70 when he needed a transplant, and given his age, it didn’t make getting a new heart any easier, Sissi said.
At the time, she was giving Stanley shots as he continued to decline. Finally, a new heart became available July 11, 2010 -- after a teenager named Dylan Reid Faircloth fell asleep at the wheel and died in a car wreck.
Forty-eight hours later, Faircloth’s heart was beating in Gann’s chest.
When they got the news that a heart was available, the Ganns grabbed a suitcase that nearly all transplant patients keep and drove as quickly as they could to Atlanta, because organs for transplants can lose their viability after just a few hours.
There was, however, just enough time for the 73-year-old Stan -- a one-time Georgia Tech quarterback -- to crack a joke on the way to the hospital, suggesting he get a meal at The Varsity for a final time.
Of the three families, the Ganns are the only ones who have met the family of the donor. Sissi Gann said Faircloth’s kidneys each went to single mothers, so more lives were saved.
“When we met Dylan’s mother, we were nervous,” Sissi Gann said. “I mean, what do you say?”
The Ganns showed June Faircloth family albums and got to learn more about Dylan, who was on the way back from Bible camp for his mother’s birthday when the crash happened.
Sissi noted that there’s a “fun run” in Faircloth’s memory every year, and Stanley has gone from being able to just walk in it to a light jog last year.
Though it was a different organ transplanted, Angela Ivory said both of Mark’s former coaches provided invaluable advice during his recovery.
“Coach Malone contacted Mark and mentored him, told him to slow down,” she said. “Stanley called Mark too and gave him advice. He was a coach, father, mentor. He (told Mark), ‘It’s a transplant. You were cut.’”
Cynthia knew something about kidney problems because at one point, her husband’s kidneys failed and he was forced to go on dialysis. Angela chuckled when she heard that, because she said Mark steadfastly refused to go on dialysis.
Mark Ivory, 44, was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease, which is hereditary. He and Angela were separated at the time of his diagnosis, and he only revealed his condition after they were back together.
“My immediate thing was prayer,” she said, adding that Mark was hesitant to tell anyone else. “He’s a well-known man and a proud man. But when he finally did let people know, we got a lot of support, a lot of prayers.”
Angela said Mark had to have a stent put into his arm, and it appeared that dialysis was going to be the only option, which he didn’t want.
“He said, ‘God’s going to supply me a kidney,’” she said. “Two hours later, we got the call.”
The prayers seemed to work, because a kidney was found that not only was the right blood type, but also contained the correct antibody necessary for the transplant to be successful.
The transplant went smoothly.
“Within hours, he was a new person,” she said. “His countenance changed, his skin color changed.”
The Ivorys are working on a fundraiser to help fight kidney disease that will be held this year.
Meanwhile, the Malones and the Ganns are spreading the word about organ donations.
“One donor can save up to 60 people,” said Malone, who added that she hopes to encourage other transplant families in Houston County to join the cause.
Gann said there are about 4,600 people in Georgia -- and more than 100,000 across the nation -- who need new organs.
“We want to encourage more donors,” she said. “That’s what Dylan did. We’re pushing for more donors. Our donor’s mother talks to groups all the time.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.
To learn more
Chip Malone has written a book about his heart transplant experience called “A 2nd Chance.” He and his wife, Cynthia, are looking to get in contact with others who have survived transplant procedures. To learn more, visit his website, www.coachchipmalone.com.