Ever since my kids were born, I’m easily brought to tears.

I cry about sad stuff — thinking about my late dad and wishing I saw my 13-year-old daughter Delaney more often.

But then there’s the feeling of being overcome with joy that sometimes causes me to laugh uncontrollably with tears rolling down my face at the same time. Movies, TV shows and even music can do that to me — when Delaney was a baby, I couldn’t listen to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” (the slower version) without it happening.

I’m not ashamed of crying, but it’s embarrassing to laugh-cry around other people — it’s not the most mentally stable look. I choked it back a couple weeks ago when my son Sully had the game-winning hit and struck out the final batter to lead his baseball team to a win.

And I did the same thing at Hickory Point Golf Course on Friday, June 15, while I was there covering the Symetra Tour Forsyth Classic. I got a text from Kevin Hale — an Eisenhower teacher and coach — with a picture of his donor, Gregorio Cortez, following Hale’s successful kidney transplant surgery. With the photo was the message: “I’m doing great.”

I went back and read the text he sent me three days earlier: “None of this happens without your brilliant writing and kindness to me. No matter the outcome...thank you for giving me a chance to fight.”

Every time I read that — or even think about it — I feel the laugh-cry thing starting.

I went back and read the Facebook message Hale sent me on Dec. 1, 2017, telling me he had a story and he wanted me to write it. At the time, I was feeling overwhelmed with other work responsibilities and wasn’t sure I’d even have time. But he insisted I was the person he wanted to share his plight — he was in Stage 5 kidney failure and on dialysis, but his sister was donating her kidney to him to save his life.

I was flattered he’d reached out to me, and it was a good story, so I sat down with Hale, his wife Ranee, his sister Kristin Black and his friend Sam Mills. The Herald & Review planned to run it as a heartwarming Christmas piece.

But he called me a couple weeks later and told me the procedure was off — it turned out Black’s kidneys weren’t functioning at a high enough level for a transplant. We had to change plans. Hale wasn’t even sure he still wanted to tell his story.

I was, but I didn’t know how, or when I was going to find time to. Three weeks passed, giving Hale more time to think about it — he was sure he wanted to go forward with it. The first in what’s become a series of stories ran on Jan. 26.

I’ve been a newspaper writer long enough that I don’t remember the name of the Western Illinois University soccer player I wrote my first feature on.

In 20 years doing this job, I’ve interviewed professional and major college athletes and coaches, politicians and celebrities. I’ve also interviewed 5-year-olds, 100-year-olds and approached random people in the street to ask them about topics ranging from the Decatur Celebration to Donald Trump.

I’ve done stories that kept me up at night thinking, that made me laugh and — of course — made me cry. I’ve done stories I’ve forgotten, and stories I wish I could forget.

If a story I write can touch someone, it’s a success. If it can help someone, that’s a bonus.

But no stories have affected me like these, from the disappointment of his sister’s kidney not working out, to his perseverance coaching the Eisenhower baseball team while on dialysis, to the triumph of the successful transplant.

Hale credits me with him ending up with a kidney, though it’s not quite true. His friend and foster brother, Todd Overturf, would have agreed to donate his kidney with or without my story (Overturf's kidney eventually went to another patient in a paired donation, but Hale wouldn't have received one without Overturf). Hale got that kidney because of the effect he has on the people who enter his life.

But if my story had even the slightest thing to do with Overturf’s decision to donate, or if the reaction from the community helped Hale stay strong enough to make it through the next six months, well …

Pardon me while I laugh-cry.

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Contact Justin Conn at (217) 421-7971. Follow him on Twitter: @jconnHR


Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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