Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Nearly five years ago, a man who never knew Lanny Littlefield saved his life.
At the time, Littlefield’s liver was scarred and swollen from a rare case of nonalcoholic cirrhosis. Doctors told him his odds for survival were not very good. He was forced to retire from teaching biology and coaching football at Green Valley High School, causing his family to struggle to make ends meet.
He and his wife, Gloria, kept faith while the community came to their aid. Henderson residents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and former football players raised more than $11,000 to help them pay their bills while their son let them move into his home.
On Feb. 7, 2009, Lanny received the ultimate donation — the liver of an organ donor, Nicolaas Unlandt Jr.
“Our granddaughter says Nicolaas is the greatest hero she never met,” Gloria said.
Now it’s the Littlefields’ turn to give back. Gloria, 68, and a healthy Lanny, 67, will be going on a leadership mission trip to eastern Tennessee to serve members of the LDS church. It’s a trip they’ve dreamed of taking since they got married 49 years ago, and now, thanks to Unlandt, they can make it a reality.
“We feel because we’ve been so blessed that my husband’s life has been extended, it’s just our way to give back,” Gloria Littlefield said. “To give back for a gift from such a special young man. … Just to be thankful for everyone who participated in helping us come to this part of our lives.”
The traditional age when Mormons go on missions is after high school, but it is not uncommon for members to go on missions after they retire. Gloria and Lanny decided to put off their mission after high school, choosing instead to get married.
Leading up to retirement, they lived a life dedicated to helping others. For 40 years, Lanny taught biology and coached football at three high schools. Along the way he racked up one state championship and 155 wins as head coach and helped countless players in need, often bringing them home to feed and mentor.
“He’d give away our house if he could,” Gloria said, half joking.
Lanny also served as a branch president and taught morning seminary. Gloria reads Scripture for three hours each day. All four of their children, who are now grown with children of their own, have been on missions.
Lanny and Gloria received their own assignment three months ago. Their mission will be different than their children’s.
The Littlefields will be based in Rogersville, Tenn., a small town outside of Knoxville. They leave Dec. 2. Then, for the next 18 months, they will drive through the region’s mountains to visit church members' homes and encourage them to attend church.
Even through his sickness, Lanny always knew he’d go on his mission.
“I always thought I could; I always thought we would,” Lanny said. “It was just a matter of time until we get to the point where we can go.”
With only a few weeks left before their trip, they're getting ready. Their home, which belonged to their son, has already been sold; their possessions, which include dozens of pictures of their grandchildren, will soon be moved to a storage unit.
The toughest part of the trip, they say, will be being away from their 14 grandchildren. They plan to video chat with them on Skype, and they can watch some of their high school games on television, but it won’t be the same as seeing them in person.
Still, the Littlefields are thrilled to finally give back to the community that helped them during their time of need.
“This is not a desire. This is a dream come true for us,” Gloria said. “To me it’s our way to give back, our way to serve all those who helped me on the path for him to be able to survive.”