Coach’s kidney donation altered boy’s life

It was a conversation among friends, and when you dedicate your life to education, communicating is your livelihood.

Pat Kreke, boys basketball coach at Fenwick High School, was discussing Marc English’s health with his adoptive parents, John and Pat English. They told Kreke that their son, a 1997 Fenwick High School graduate, was born with one kidney, and he needed a transplant or face years of dialysis.

No one in the English family was a match, they told Kreke.

Here’s where most of us say, “That’s too bad about your boy. How about those Reds?”

Not Kreke. He loves sports, but he has a bigger passion for people. His legacy won’t be measured by wins and losses. Long after the record books fade, and Kreke — and every coach before him is forgotten — he’ll be remembered for what he said that day.

“I’ll do it,” Kreke told Marc’s parents. “I’ll be checked.”

That was 10 years ago this month. Kreke was checked, and by some miracle, he was a perfect match for English, then 24. Once you say, “I’ll be checked,” there is no backing out, no mulligans.

As Kreke said: “I was all in.”

English admitted he was “shocked” when Kreke, then known simply as Mr. Kreke, volunteered to be tested and was found to be a match.

Kreke donated a kidney to English during a procedure on Oct. 4, 2002, at Cincinnati’s University Hospital, two years after he gave bone marrow to a 1-year-old Canadian boy who had leukemia. His love knows no borders.

Kreke 2, Selfishness 0.

So in celebration of the anniversary of the transplant, Kreke, 55, played golf late last week at Shaker Run with English’s parents, an event they called the Transplant Open. Even before the transplant, Kreke was close to Pat English, who worked as a secretary in the Fenwick main office and later in the athletic office.

Marc English, now 34, lives in Middletown and works two jobs, full-time at Deceuninck North America and part-time at the GAP at the Cincinnati Outlet Mall in Monroe. He said he rarely talks to Kreke, and only sees him occasionally, sometimes at the Fenwick Festival, the school’s summer fundraiser.

What do you say to someone who kept you off dialysis and may have saved your life?

Even before the transplant, when Kreke was simply English’s gym teacher, he said he “always looked up” to Kreke.

English called the successful transplant “a burden off my shoulders,” and said almost instantaneously, his energy level skyrocketed.

Now, every six months, English is evaluated at the hospital. He remembers one visit when there was a new nurse in the hospital. The other nurses told her: “You get him because he’s easy.” In other words, his blood work is always in range.

After Marc English was adopted, his parents knew he’d need a kidney transplant. His mother was only “shocked” by the severity of his kidney problems. She wasn’t surprised by Kreke’s sacrifice.

“You know Pat knows that I love him,” Pat English said. “Our relationship isn’t based on what he did for our son. We don’t talk about that.”

I asked Coach Kreke — I still call him coach, because, well, he’s a coach — how he wants to be remembered. He has coached for 23 seasons, but he can’t coach forever. Eventually, Kreke, the only boys basketball coach ever in the new Fenwick High School gym named after John “Butch” Rossi, will have to hang up his whistle.

“Not just that I coached basketball for a long time,” he said. “I hope people remember that I valued life so much. For me, it’s all about helping children, they have been my whole life. I’d do anything for them.”

And that includes saying “yes,” when most would have said “no.”

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