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Local High School Coach Shares Transplant Story

HAMPTON TOWNSHIP (KDKA) -- Life-changing advances in medicine are all around us in Pittsburgh. But sometimes it's difficult to put a face on the subject of organ and tissue donation.

KDKA's Rick Dayton introduces us to a high school football coach - and heart transplant recipient - who is making it his mission to change that.

"She said 'Ron, we found you a heart.' And I was in shock. I was in shock," Ron Gooden, heart transplant recipient, said. "I sat there. I cried. I was happy. I was scared."

On Nov. 22, 2011 - two days before Thanksgiving – Gooden, the assistant football coach at Hampton High School, got a new heart in a transplant at Allegheny General Hospital.

Congestive heart failure limited his heart to 10 percent efficiency. Less than three months later, he is back at Hampton High sharing his story of recovery.

"I had my first pimple. I had a pimple, I kid you not, I said to the cardiologist, and he said, 'You know what, you have rich, oxygenated blood that you haven't had in years,'" said Gooden.

The beloved coach knows how to use humor when discussing a serious subject.

"One of the things I told the surgeons is that sometimes it's so hard to think about someone dying so that I could live," said Gooden. "That's a hard thing to wrap your head around."

A wellness class full of juniors at the high school is taught by Jacques DeMatteo, Hampton's head football coach and close personal friend of Gooden.

"I get a little choked up myself because listening to him share his story with these kids, I know it was powerful because I have never seen 17-year-old kids sit for 40 minutes and not move," said DeMatteo.

Two videos feature other donors and recipients.

"If you ever want to hear God laugh, just tell him what your plans are," said Gooden. "It's something that I think is so important for me to be out there and to spread that message to be an organ and tissue donor," Gooden said.

Gooden's new heart came from a 19-year-old in Erie - fitting considering the 55-year-old has spent a lifetime coaching teens. He's written a letter to the donor's family and hopes to share it with them and perhaps meet them.

"I woke up about 3 o'clock in the morning and started to jot them down and got too emotional," he said. "How can you speak from your heart about someone giving you a heart, that's a gift of life. It was kind of tough for me."

"It's such a powerful program for other schools, other communities, to have Coach Gooden come in and give this presentation in a full auditorium setting because it is that powerful," said DeMatteo.

Gooden's full-time job now is making a full recovery from transplant surgery. But what about when football camp opens in August?

"If the season started tomorrow, I think the docs would say, 'Well, let's kind of back off a little bit,' but given the fact that the season won't start for another... six months down the road, I'll be ready," he said. "I'll be ready."

And he's always ready to share his truly heart-warming story.

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