|By Tom Archdeacon, Dayton Daily News, Ohio|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Now they were back at their country church,
When it came to Savana, the conversation wasn't about the genetic glitch in her heart that had brought so many problems over the past 6 1/2 years and ultimately caused her death at the
And when it came to
Three days before that mid-November game in 2007, Savana -- who had learned in early October that she had the same kind of heart problem her mom had and that hers was working at less than 25 percent -- got a heart transplant at
That had been yet another blow to a good family and it was further complicated because Mike had lost his job at
"I remember we had an administrative meeting a few days before that game and we had heard about the girl from Clinton-Massie so we decided, 'Let's try to do something to help,' " said
"I sent emails to community people and we put out a bucket in the office where we were selling tickets to the game. Students, people from around town, they all started dropping money in the bucket and people brought money in and we started getting more and more.
"Most were smaller amounts, but I remember one junior high boy showing up with an envelope with
Before the game, Coldwater officials handed Sydney and her uncle -- Mike and Tabby were at the hospital with Savana -- a check for
"Can you imagine that?" Tabby was now saying, still incredulous all these years later. "We didn't know anyone in
At the game, which the eventual state champion Cavaliers won decisively, Clinton-Massie fans hung up a banner that simply said: "Thank you Coldwater."
Although Savana had always wanted to visit the town of her benefactors, her health issues and those of her mom prevented that. But she was honored at the state basketball tournament in
"After that, his daughter, who worked for
"We could never say thank you enough for what Coldwater did for us," Tabby said.
And yet, you could say Savana did just that by the way she lived her life after her heart transplant.
'Three good years'
"My girlfriend and I were going to our football game in
Actually, Mike was inside and tapped on the store window as they came through the drive-through . Their eyes met and it was, as they say, kismet.
"We ended up switching numbers with each other, but that was it," Tabby said. "I was just 15 and wasn't allowed to date, so we talked on the phone a few times."
They finally went out when she was 17 and three years later they married. Savana came a couple of years later and a year after that they had Sydney. It was then that Tabby's heart problems were diagnosed and in 1995 she had a heart transplant.
"The girls have been around this their whole life -- the sickness, nurses coming to the house, hospital visits," Tabby said. "They were used to it."
Whether or not that played a part in Savana's empathetic nature, one thing is certain: She cared about ... everything.
"I remember her walking home from school crying," Tabby said. "I was like, what's wrong?
"Turns out, it had been raining that day and she was trying to save all the earthworms in the street. She had been throwing them all back into the yards. She didn't want them to die. Back then already, she knew how precious life was."
It was early in her freshman year that Savana began to complain of shortness of breath. At first she thought she had asthma, but after some trips to Urgent Care, it was realized there was something more serious. She was hospitalized and the heart problem was discovered.
After some initial setbacks following the transplant, Savana had "three good years," her mom said.
She was a Clinton-Massie cheerleader throughout high school, was on the bowling team and danced at a studio in
Although she had been hospitalized at the end of her senior year, she was released the day of her graduation ceremony and marched with her classmates.
After that she began classes at
Her family talked about her far-reaching embrace of life, how she liked to garden, loved her three dogs (a German shorthaired pointer, a yorkipoo and a toy poodle), how she was best friends with her sister and how, in the past year or so, she had a steady boyfriend,
"And she loved to bake, too," Sydney said.
Tabby nodded: "
"Cakes, cookies, she took them into work so people could have them, too. She could bake," Sydney said before flashing a smile her parents understood.
"Some of her cookin' though -- she had a casserole we probably all could have passed on."
Put others first
"She didn't let anything go by," Tabby said. "She knew exactly what she wanted and she went after it. She had her life planned.
"I went through her room the other day and there was her notebook. She had everything scheduled. She had gotten her phlebotomist certificate at
"She had decided the classes she was going to take next in college. She wanted to get a real estate license and then she wanted to buy her own home."
In the process Savana had deeply influenced her sister, who is now going to nursing school.
"I had told myself I never-ever wanted to be a nurse," Sydney said. "I had seen too much over the years and figured I'd be too emotional. But after I finished my classes at
Savana had worked one week at her new job when she came home one January day feeling ill. "She said, 'Mom, I think I ate something bad,' " Tabby said. "She started vomiting and the next day she still was. That's when I said, 'We're going to
"We got her up there just in time. She needed a new heart. They put her on a heart-lung machine. Even then when she was in ICU she was worrying about other people first.
"There are no doors on the rooms in ICU and even though she was very sick, she could hear the buzzers and beepers going off in other rooms and she knew what that meant. The nurses told me she told them, 'You need to go help those people, I'm OK.' "
When no heart became available, Tabby said doctors had to do "a total mechanical heart transplant" on Savana. "They couldn't close her, the heart was too big, so her chest had to stay open."
Complications developed and she died
Wednesday night, they had a five-hour visitation at the church and thousands showed up. "After just 90 minutes they already had run out of the 500 announcements they had," Tabby said. "They had to go back to the funeral home seven times that night to make more announcements."
The following afternoon, Savana's funeral service drew an overflow crowd to the small church. In the middle of all the songs and words of worship, Sydney stood and gave a touching tribute to her sister.
Now the Coffmans are trying to help others. They hope to educate people about the need for organ donations and no one makes that case better than the 43-year-old Tabby.
She's on dialysis every day for 14 hours. She needs a new heart and kidney and has been on the wait list for nearly three years.
"So many people are up there (Cleveland) and everywhere just waiting," Tabby said, her voice starting to break. "If Savana had gotten a real heart before the mechanical one, I believe she would have made it."
The family has also started the
"We're hoping we can get enough to offer a scholarship every year to a student from Clinton-Massie and one from
The Coffmans haven't worked out the details yet, but they may well look for someone who is embracing life as fully as Savana did.
"The night before she went for her mechanical heart, I remember she was so nervous," Tabby said in a voice beginning to waver again. "But then she just sucked it up and right before they wheeled her back for surgery, she said 'OK, let's just get this over with.'
"That was the last time she was conscious and able to talk. She just wanted to get going so she could finish the rest of her life. She had so much she wanted to do for others and she just had so much she wanted to do herself."
To the end, Savana Coffman just had so much heart.
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