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August 20, 2014

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Ray Brewer: From the Pressbox

From the Press Box:

Love for family helps coach pull through sensitive liver transplant

Ray Brewer

Ray Brewer

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Former Basic and Green Valley football coach Lanny Littlefield, who has been diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, and his wife, Gloria, stand in their home in Henderson on Oct. 5, 2006.

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Lanny and Gloria Littlefield could not have asked for a better Valentine's Day.

Sitting at their grandson's high school basketball game at Lake Mead Christian Academy in Henderson on Feb. 13, Lanny Littlefield's cell phone rang with information the former Green Valley High football coach had been waiting three years to hear.

After a long fight with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver that also attacked other organs like his heart and kidneys, Lanny Littlefield's name reached the top of the donor list for a transplant.

The coach received the phone call at 8:30 p.m. and had to be in Salt Lake City by midnight for the surgery. He was rushed to McCarran International Airport, and less than one hour after getting the call, was on last flight to Utah.

His condition had become so bad that he was in a wheelchair, his body failing.

Littlefield's 6-foot-4, near 300-pound frame made it nearly impossible to find him a matching liver because matches have to come from a donor who is similar in stature. His liver was so deteriorated that it caused his heart to begin to fail.

"I was near death," Littlefield said. "I couldn't go anywhere. I had no energy or strength."

But on Feb. 14, his life was extended with a successful transplant.

He was told the surgery could last up to 24 hours, but the procedure was over in seven hours. He was walking the halls of the Intermountain Medical in Murray, Utah, the following day.

That kind of determination, he says, was fueled by his desire to be healthy for his wife, their four children and 15 grandchildren.

He remembers waking up and seeing Gloria, his wife of 45 years. The longtime Henderson residents married in 1964, a few months after graduating Basic High together.

"My wife has been by my side the entire time," said Littlefield, trying to hold back tears. "I don't know what I would do without her."

Littlefield turned 63 the day after the surgery and feels it will be no time until he is back to his normal self. He even wants to get back to coaching football.

He became sick in 2003, shortly after he stopped coaching at Green Valley, but doctors could not figure out why he was constantly fatigued and lethargic.

Because Littlefield does not drink alcohol, doctors never suspected the problem could be his liver.

A diagnoses finally came in the fall of 2006, and the Littlefields have been waiting for a transplant ever since. The coach could bench press 400 pounds before he got sick, but he eventually became so weak that lifting a piece of paper became a challenge.

But the coach never lost his spirit — especially for his family.

He is a regular at Lake Mead games, where his grandson Landon Littlefield is one of the best players in the 1A classification.

Lanny Littlefield, meanwhile, is rehabbing in Utah and is not expected home until early May.

Lake Mead will play in the state semifinals on Feb. 27 and one of Littlefield's passions is watching his grandson compete. Now, he gets phone calls with quarter-by-quarter updates.

"I knew he was losing his mind when he asked if we could wait until after Feb. 28 (the state championship game) for the transplant," said Darryl Littlefield, his son and an assistant coach at Lake Mead.

Sports Editor Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected].

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