A Fathers’ Day gift that keeps on giving

Published 10:55 pm Friday, June 18, 2021

Jim Walker
jim.walker@irontontribune.com

COAL GROVE — It’s Father’s Day and you’re trying to figure out what to get dad besides a necktie that he’ll probably never wear.
About a year and a half ago, Chelsea Blagg decided the best gift she could give her father Kevin Markins was, uh, well, a kidney.
No, this isn’t a page out of the Dr. Frankenstein book. Actually, it’s one of the greatest acts of love a child can give their parent.
Kevin Markins was literally facing death. A Type-1 diabetic, for some reason both his kidneys suddenly began to fail. The diagnosis changed dramatically to a mere three months.
But his daughter Chelsea was not about to let that happen. Without hesitation, Chelsea stepped forward and said she would donate her kidney.
Despite her desires, dad wasn’t going to let it happen. He was 57 at the time and felt he had lived a good life. He didn’t want to put his daughter through such an ordeal.
Kevin’s dialysis began in September of 2017 and continued until he finally relented and let Chelsea have her way and help save her father’s life. He had his surgery Dec. 7, 2019.
All of this adversity was something none of them had even come close to experiencing during their lives.
Kevin was an All-Ohio running back for the Coal Grove Hornets and teamed with Randy Hardy to form one of the best one-two backfield tandems in the program’s history. He signed to play at Eastern Kentucky.
He also played baseball and — with excellent speed — ran track.
Chelsea played volleyball, softball and track but she was an outstanding basketball player who signed with Shawnee State. She set the Lady Hornets’ all-time scoring record in 2007 before it was broken this past season by Addi Dillow.
Even as a Type-1 diabetic, Kevin had hardly any other health issues.
“They decided one day they (his kidneys) were going to shut down. The doctors told me I‘d have like five to 10 years before I’d have to start dialysis. Nope. It was three years later. They don’t know if it was medicine or what because everything else was fine except for my kidneys,” Kevin said.
“After they went, I started going fast. And I was awful reluctant about this one (Chelsea) giving me a kidney. I told her no five million times. I’ve never told her ‘no’ in my life. It was two years later that I finally gave in.”
When the doctors told the family Kevin’s kidneys were failing, it was Chelsea who came up with the idea to give one of her kidneys to her father.
As the operation drew closer, Chelsea said she had no anxiety.
“Really, I was excited,” she said. “It was this one (pointing to her dad) who was scared when we got into the waiting room. I was just ready for him to feel better.”
Although Chelsea was just wanting her father to feel better, the medicine she received before the surgery to make sure she wouldn’t be scared or nervous had quite an effect on her.
“I was singing to the doctors,” said Chelsea with a laugh.
Kevin said he wasn’t worried about the surgery.
“I was worried about this one,” he said, again pointing to Chelsea.
Ironically, Kevin was fine once he came out of recovery but that wasn’t the case for Chelsea.
“He was perfectly fine. He got right out of bed. Me, on the other hand, it was a good three weeks,” Chelsea said whose body struggled because she was healthy and had never been on any kind of medicine.
“And they cut me and they didn’t tell me they were going to cut me. But after those three weeks, it wasn’t even like I had surgery.”
Kevin had spent most of his time off his feet for several weeks but showed no ill effects after the surgery when he got right out of bed.
“I hadn’t walked in a while,” said Kevin who then lamented how his daughter had reacted after the surgery. “I didn’t like that part of it at all.”
Eventually, the recovery process became a healing process and the pain and problems began to disappear. Three months following the surgery, Chelsea said there were no lingering effects.
“I would never even know that I only had one kidney,” said Chelsea.
But Chelsea and Kevin weren’t the only ones involved in what was happening. Gina Markins, Kevin’s wife and Chelsea’s mother, played an important role as well.
Gina was a cheerleader growing up in Springfield, Ohio, and she was fully aware of what athletics were all about between her husband and daughter. But more so was her total concern for their health.
“I stayed out of the decision making because that’s my baby and that’s my husband. I said ‘I’m not making the decision for you. I can’t.’ But then Chelsea was bound and determined she was going to do it and he finally agreed,” said Gina.
“We sat down one day and she said, ‘Dad, I’m going up there and I’m going to get tested.’ He looked at her and said, ‘OK.’”
Chelsea remembered the moment that her father finally gave in to the persistent and determined child he had raised.
“He was sitting on the couch and mom was on the other couch and I was in the rocking chair. I said, ‘I’m going to get tested.’ And he looked right at me and said ‘OK.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I started screaming. It was on a Sunday and I went that week,” Chelsea said.
Kevin said his wife was the rock that kept everyone positive and fighting for a successful outcome.
“Neither one of us would be here if not for that one,” Kevin said pointing at his wife.
“That’s true,” agreed Chelsea.
“She kept me alive for three years. Those were the worst three years of my life. I couldn’t have made it without her,” said Kevin.
Kevin and Chelsea had discussions on a daily basis about her donating a kidney. Chelsea said it was difficult to watch her father going through dialysis and all the pain he was suffering.
“He was doing dialysis every night during the night and we would wake up each day not knowing if he was going to be there,” she said.
Kevin did the dialysis at the center and at home. Gina had quit work to help take care of her husband.
“I really wasn’t worried. I really wasn’t. I was 57. I’d live a good one,” said Kevin.
But Chelsea was quick to make the point that she wanted her father to be around for his two grandchildren.
“Watching those grandbabies was my biggest thing,” said Chelsea who has a daughter Addison, 7, and son Jase, 5. “I’m really glad we did it.”
So was Chelsea’s husband Jeremy Blagg. He had four simple words for his wife following the ordeal.
“I’m proud of you,” said Jeremy.
Kevin said he didn’t remember anything about the surgery, just waking up on the recovery table and quickly asked how Chelsea was doing.
“I hadn’t walked in a while and I got up and walked down to see her,” said Kevin.
“They usually don’t put them in the same room because they don’t want them to see how much pain she was in. They ended up putting them in the same room,” said Gina.
The surgery was on a Saturday and the hospital was going to release him on Monday morning. But Kevin wanted to stay with Chelsea because she was in pain.
“I’m not a medicine person. I don’t like to use medicine. I wouldn’t even take pain pills. The only thing they told me not to take was Motrin,” said Chelsea.
Chelsea had one of the nurses take a picture of her kidney after it was removed from her and before it was transplanted into her father. She carries the picture on her phone.
“It’s the only thing I asked for,” she said of her kidney that she named “Thelma.”
Kevin has been able to enjoy two seasons of watching and coaching his grandchildren playing tee-ball.
“My kids love my mom and dad so I didn’t want him to miss all of that,” said Chelsea.
Both father and daughter have no restrictions and get yearly checkups and each time it has been a clean slate.
“I just had to keep with my diet for my diabetes. As for exercise, I’m still working,” said Kevin. “I’m doing fine.”
With kidney transplants, the patient has to be a match with the donor.
“We were a perfect match,” said Chelsea who went and had the test done on her own to determine compatibility.
Kevin said that there were a lot of other people involved in his treatment, surgery and recovery.
“I’ve got a lot of doctors and nurses I’ve got to be thankful for. If that surgery had been postponed, I’d have been in a lot of trouble. A doctor who had just left King’s Daughters’ Hospital and moved to Dayton, he put my heart back in rhythm two days before. If it had been out of rhythm, I wasn’t going to be able to have the surgery,” said Kevin.
One thing that proved to be comforting to Kevin and Gina was how Chelsea would be treated in the future if she had any kidney problems.
“They did tell Chelsea if she has kidney problems that she goes to the top of the list because she’s a donor,” said Gina.
“That’s the first thing they promised me,” said Kevin.
And now, Kevin Markins has the Father’s Day gift that he’ll always remember.
That’s quite a gift from quite a daughter.