Friday Night is Organ Donation Night at Mishawaka. It’s a chance for Mishawaka Basketball Coach Ron Hecklinski to share his story. “I was told I needed a liver transplant to save my life,” said Mishawaka Basketball Coach Ron Hecklinski. “I had a daughter who was 8 years old. And I’ll never forget saying goodbye to Steph and not knowing if I would ever see her again.” That was 23 years ago. Hecklinski was one of the fortunate ones. Meanwhile, a young man in Kentucky had a horrible motorcycle crash, and he had checked the box to be an organ donor. Coach Hecklinski’s wife Monica explained how the family deals with that conflict. “We have very strong faith and believe that it was God’s will. God put that tragedy unfortunately with that young man on the motorcycle. It happened. So God made it to let my husband survive.”
It was the 1990’s. Coach was living his dream coaching basketball. His world came crashing down when he got the news that he needed a new liver to survive. And then he got the message. Hope was a drive away. “Him getting his liver, it made a difference in my life. It made a difference in his son’s lives, his daughter’s life. It made a difference in tons of basketball players lives,” said Mrs. Hecklinski. “I got a second chance, and I don’t miss one minute of this second chance,” said Coach.
It’s been 23 years and every day is precious. Holidays, special moments. They all bring a smile to his face. “Time is a very important part of a person’s life. And when we’re younger, we don’t understand it. When we’re older, we try to grab every minute of that time, and then we understand the impact we can make on people’s lives.”
He was a fierce competitor. Not used to losing. And he didn’t plan on falling short in this fight. Monica said, “You hear stories of when he was a teenager with friends whether it was playing or doing something else. I think having a couple of older brothers helped him out with that.” “To me it was another fight,” said Coach. “It was another fight I had to overcome. It was a fight in the 4th quarter and all of those old cliches. I just had to stay in there and fight and trust my doctors.” His wife sees how appreciative he is every day. “It just makes me so happy that he’s not going, OK, I got one I’m good. He needs people to be aware of it.”
Numbers are important to this guy. He’s in his 3rd year at Mishawaka. Career wins approaching 400, he’s among the top 25 active coaches in the state of Indiana. The numbers he promotes now are facts like one person donating can save up to 8 lives. 114,000 people nationally are waiting right now for an organ transplant. And 1,300 of those are from right here in the Hoosier state. “No one ever think it’s going to happen to them,” said Monica. “It’s only gonna happen to someone else. But what if it was your loved one.” Coach Hecklinski closed out this story by saying his magic catch phrase, “Don’t take your organs to heaven. Heaven knows we need them here.” That 8 year old little girl who got to dance with her father on her wedding day is sure glad someone checked the box for organ donation at the BMV. That decision truly did save an important life.
So when you see his fire in the huddle, watch him working the refs. Know this guy got a 2nd chance. And it was all because a special guy became an organ donor. For more information go to: https://indianadonornetwork.org/ To register, 99% of people go to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), but you can also say you will at https://www.donatelifeindiana.org/