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San Francisco’s Nino Giarratano Gives His Father The Ultimate Gift

DENVER — Some collegiate baseball coaches spend the off-season coaching summer ball. Others run camps, all recruit and most take some vacation time. USF coach Nino Giarratano will spend his time off by recovering from a surgery that he underwent to give his father a kidney.

On July 11th, Giarratano checked into the Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver for his first-ever procedure that would require an overnight stay. He was wheeled into the operating room at noon and two hours later, doctors took his kidney next door and began surgery on his father, Mickey.

Unexpected News

In early September of this past fall, Mickey went in for what he thought was a routine gallbladder surgery. Following the surgery, his kidneys suddenly failed. Doctors started him on dialysis, hoping that would help his kidneys to recover. Days went by, then weeks and still no change.

A routine surgery turned into a 40-night stay. A short-term solution turned into a life sentence. Now, three times a week, Mickey reports to the hospital for a five-hour dialysis treatment.

It wasn’t long into the treatments before Mickey began to dread going. He spent his life outdoors, competing in sports like softball and golf, taking in baseball games all across the country and socializing with friends and family. Suddenly, being subject to so many hours in the hospital began to take its toll on his normally energetic approach to life.

Doctors told Mickey that the only alternative to a life centered around his dialysis treatments was a kidney transplant. It seemed like a far-fetched possibility at his age of 80.

Worrisome Times

Back in San Francisco, Nino pushed through the fall baseball season, but spent countless hours worrying about his father and his health struggles.

“It really hit me when my dad got sick this fall,” Nino said. “He has always been healthy and worked so hard his entire life so when he got sick I immediately thought ‘what can I do to help?'”

At first, there was nothing he could do except pray and hope that his father’s kidneys responded to dialysis. When that didn’t appear to be the case, Nino watched from afar as his father’s hope continued to fade day by day.

“I don’t want to die,” Mickey told his family. “I have too many things to live for. I have nine grandchildren and four children and so many places I’ve never seen before. And 61 years is a long time, but I’m greedy, I want more time with my wife.”

By Christmas, Nino knew he had a solution. He and his family traveled to home to Pueblo, like they always do, and he asked his mother and father to sit down with him in the living room. Nino sat facing his parents, looked his father in the eye and said, “I’m your donor. I want to be the one to give you a kidney dad.”

His parents both broke down in tears. They asked him over and over, “Are you sure.”

Each time, Nino said ‘yes’ and told them that he was the youngest of their four children and he had the best chance to recover completely from the surgery.

“There was never any question in my mind about it,” Nino said. “I think it was more of a reaction from my heart than something I had to sit and think about.”

Nino’s mother Josephine, remembers feeling elated and worried at the same time. She focused her energy on praying about the situation, but in the end left the decision up to Nino and in God’s hands.

“I was not about to ask my sons or daughter for a kidney, but Nino always seems to think of the other person first,” Mickey said. “I cried for two days after he told me what he wanted to do. I know he loves me so much and that’s why he did it.”

Will It Work?

Making the decision to donate the kidney was only one step in the process. The next was to begin a lengthy testing process to see if Nino was a match for Mickey.

The USF baseball season was in full swing, but Nino still found time to slip away to the hospital for various testing. He didn’t say a word to anyone — including his wife Brenda, daughter Bianca and son Nico — for quite some time. When he finally broke the news about his plans, the words brought more tears.

His family was scared. Eventually, Nino was able to share with them information about the technology that would be used in the surgery, his recovery plan and more information about transplants.

“As we talked about it more they understood the process and were more at ease,” Nino said. “I think deep down they are proud that I’m the kind of person that would even want to do something like this.”

USF’s season finished with a trip to the NCAA Los Angeles Regional. Mickey received special permission to alter his treatment schedule to make a last-minute trip to Southern California. As soon as the Dons were eliminated, both Nino and Mickey went through the final tests to make sure they were a match and Mickey was healthy enough to go through the surgery.

They were indeed a match and the process began to move in fast forward. Five days after finding out the news about the match, the surgery was scheduled. Less than a week later, both went in for surgery.

The Recovery

Both made it out of surgery in good shape. Nino will spend two days in the hospital and then another week in the Denver area before he is cleared to travel back to San Francisco. He will be limited for a period of about six weeks before he can resume normal activities.

Mickey is told he will spend a week in the hospital and then up to another month in the Denver area for daily checkups. After that he is free to pick up where he left off in September. He’s dreaming about taking Josephine to Hawaii, walking into a Colorado Rockies game and buying the biggest hot dog he can find and of course, someday, watching his son take the Dons to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Something Bigger

“He never wanted any glory or attention from this,” Mickey said. “His sole purpose was to make his dad better again.”

At first, Nino was reluctant to even share his story with those outside of his family, but as he waded deeper and deeper into his research about organ donating he began to feel very passionately about the cause. He realized he could help more people than just his dad.

“I want to be able to help educate more people to move past their fears of donating organs,” Nino said. “It’s out of character for me to want to be in the spotlight like this, but I want to become an advocate and speak for organ donors. The goal is to use my story to help find the world more good organ donors and more people willing to give life.”

Nino is quick to point out that kidney disease affects both kidneys so he’s not at any more risk for illness by just having one kidney rather than two kidneys and that a full recovery is completely normal.

“It didn’t surprise me that my brother stepped forward to do this,” said Nino’s oldest brother, Joe. “He is a person of deep, deep, deep family commitment and a person that puts other people first and practices what he preaches. Nino is very humble and was concerned about our dad and the entire cause of transplant organs.”

Connected Again

After the surgery, Nino faded into and out of consciousness as the anesthesia wore off. By the time his father was out of surgery, Nino was awake asking when he could go see dad. Nino insisted on having Brenda wheel him into his dad’s room as soon as possible.

When the two men saw each other for the first time — neither had to say a word. Nino reached for his father’s hand and the two exchanged a loving stare.

“The reason why I’m successful is because of all of the things my parents have given to me,” Nino said. “Family is what’s most important. What a small gift I can offer after all that my parents have done for me during my entire life.

  • Brian

    Brian, this is the second story I’ve tried to read that is cut off. Your bio is large and proud, but all I get is the top half of the top line of the story. Did you guys go “subscription only” or something?

  • Anonymous

    Coach Giarratano is a winner in this big game called life.  The majority of us won’t be donating our organs while we’re alive, but we can be designated organ donors at our life’s end.  Great story.

  • Souza Da Losa Boosa

    Hey Fat Boi Foley, I’m going to be at the University of No Hardware this weekend. Is it true the hockey rink also doubles as a place where the school has it championship bonfires?

  • Seminole

    Thumbs up…..Agree with Brian!

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