As a high school coach, former Colts linebacker Orlando Lowry thrives on giving back.
Orlando’s focus on giving is even stronger now, just a year after receiving the greatest gift he could imagine.
“Every day I wake up and I can be outside and coach my football players and my track athletes, it’s such a blessing,” Orlando said while sitting inside St. Vincent Hospital after meeting with Dr. Islam Ghoneim.
Orlando has a renewed lease on life thanks to his wife, Penny, whose kidney now lives inside him.
“Every day I wake up, I’m just thankful to be here and I’m here because of my wife,” Orlando said.
“It does create quite a bond,” Penny added. “We have always had a very tight bond but first of all, it’s amazing when you think, part of you, I mean, she’s sitting right there,” she said, gently touching her husband’s abdomen.
“She’s always with me,” Orlando said, smiling.
Orlando had been battling kidney issues for years, but he never exhibited symptoms. Then in late 2015, a routine check-up revealed his situation was becoming dire.
“When the nephrologist mentioned the word transplant and talked about him being in stage four chronic kidney disease, basically kidney failure, it stunned me, just to hear those words,” Penny explained.
As they searched for potential donors, the urgency quickly escalated.
Orlando – who won a Big Ten football championship at Ohio State before spending five seasons with the Colts – quickly moved into stage five kidney failure.
“It was very difficult you know as a young man playing in the NFL, you really have a mentality that you could run through a brick wall, pick yourself up and keep going, but as you get older you realize you’re just mortal,” Orlando said. “But it was just I needed help, and that was hard for me because I’m a very self-reliant person. So to sit back and ask for help, it brought me closer to God, a lot of prayer, lot of prayer so I sat back and let God work.”
At the suggestion of Orlando’s doctors, Penny created a Facebook post, in hopes of finding a willing and viable donor; the response was overwhelming.
“It was amazing,” Orlando said of the social media outreach “I heard from people from high school that I hadn’t talked to in 30 years or more wanting to donate. It was just very, very touching, in the whole process, I learned so much about love.”
While the post elicited many willing donors on social media, his match had been made decades ago.
“I couldn’t love her anymore than I do now. I’m so thankful for her and I see that God had a plan 30 years ago when we got married. Every day I look at her, I’m just thankful,” Orlando said as the couple gazed at one another with adoring smiles.
“It’s not that common to have a couple that end up being a match,” Dr. Islam Ghoneim said, who has performed nearly 500 transplant surgeries said.
“I have to tell you, throughout my career, I’ve seen mostly wives donating to their husbands I haven’t seen husbands donating to wives,” Ghoneim said with a laugh. “And I think it’s all part of God’s grand plan for these people. You can call it a negative cross match, you can call it good tissue typing or you can just call it love you know.”
Strength, resilience and sacrifice are terms commonly used in sports, but ones Orlando has an even greater appreciation for now, and something he shares with his football and track athletes at Park Tudor.
“Well, it’s added a different perspective,” he said. “This last year, we talked a lot about love. And you don’t really hear that much on a football field. But you have to love your teammates you have to love your players and love your coaches and you know it’s a very, very hard sport but when you love not only the sport, but the people that you work with, you play harder, it gives you more to play for, so I think from that perspective I’m trying to implement that more into my coaching style and show my teammates, show my players, my coaches I truly love you and we’re a family.”
To learn more about organ donation or to register to be a donor, contact the Indiana Donor Network.