SCHERERVILLE | The Peifer Elementary School second-graders listened closely as a story was told to them Tuesday morning. It was a tale that could change their life.
Patty Cowser, a teacher's aide at Peifer, walked in front of Doreen Webb's class and spoke.
“I donated one of my kidneys to my son's old football coach,” Cowser said, referring to coach Mark Reid.
“When she says 'old' what she really means is former football coach,” Reid said with a laugh.
Cowser's and Reid's lives came together for a brief time in 2009. Joey Cowser was a freshman football player at Merrillville. Reid was the Pirates ninth-grade coach.
The bond the two made was extreme.
Reid had walked up to Joey Cowser, who had hair hanging down his back, and said, “Hey, hippie, get a hair cut. You're going to be my quarterback.”
That night, Patty Cowser helped shave her son's head.
“Every day Joey would come home and say, 'Coach Reid said this,' or 'Coach Reid said that.' Joey told me that Coach Reid wasn't just helping (him) be a better football player. He was helping my son become a man.”
Time went on. Joey Cowser played football and baseball at Merrillville, where he is now a senior. Reid left Merrillville and is now a varsity assistant at Hobart.
But Patty Cowser saw a Facebook post last summer that brought these families together again.
“If anyone has a kidney in the shed they're not using I need one,” Reid's post said.
The 53-year-old diabetic's kidneys had failed. He said a lifetime of eating chips, hamburgers and soda had caught up to him. Death was an option if a donor wasn't found.
The teacher at Pierce Middle School was extremely ill.
“I weighed 310 pounds, I was aching from head to toe,” Reid told the students at Peifer. “I had cramps all over my body. All that poison in my system was stuck there.
“But that lady over there saved my life," he said about Patty Cowser. "It was the greatest gift.”
On Saturday, Cowser and Reid will be guest speakers at the National Kidney Foundation's walk at the Westfield Southlake mall at 10 a.m.
The transplant took place in January in Indianapolis. Six months of testing took place to make sure Cowser would be a healthy match. The odds of a donor being so close in your life is against the odds.
While Reid and Joey Cowser were together every day at football practice, Patty Cowser and Reid only had met and talked once.
“Coach was so good to my son it was like I knew him even though I didn't,” she said. “When I heard he was sick, I knew I could do it. I knew I had to help if I could.”
Her husband, Dan, had to go along with the plan. And as the surgery date got closer, so did the families.
Reid and Patty Cowser ate Popsicles together in the days after the transplant.
Patty Cowser used to love ham. But since one of her two kidneys was taken, she can't eat it without getting sick to her stomach.
“That's OK,” she told the children at Peifer. “I can live without it.”
Reid teared up in front of the class when he talked about the wonderful gift he received.
“I have grandkids and now they can grow up to know their papa, and it's because of this wonderful lady,” Reid said. “The only thing harder than asking someone for one of their kidneys is saying thank you afterward.”
Patty Cowser has touched many by the blessing she gave to her son's former coach. But she may have touched her son's life in a greater way.
“I think my mom is a superhero,” Joey Cowser said. “The transplant was dangerous, happy and insane. I knew my mom was at peace with her decision. It's great to have a new family member.”