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Culver coach back on sidelines, thanks to transplant

Culver High School’s head football coach, Shea Little, has led the Bulldogs to the best record of any high school football team on the High Desert this season. But his story goes beyond the gridiron.

Little used to be a football player back in the day. He was an offensive tackle for Portland State and Eastern Oregon and signed with the Rams in 1997. Little said he struggled with respiratory issues during his career, but every doctor diagnosed him with exercise-induced asthma.

” It was tough to take a shower. It was tough to walk out to the field, ” Little recalled recently. ” I could still yell. I could still sit there and yell. ”

Then, a few years ago, a pulmonologist in Bend diagnosed Little with a genetic disorder called Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. That means his body did not produce enough of a protein to protect his lungs and liver from damage.

” I just got sick, and I was taking all the antibiotics and prednisone and all that stuff, and it just wasn’t working, ” Little said.

So he was put on the lung transplant list in 2016 and stepped down from the head coaching position indefinitely.

Zach Wiseman, a senior running back on the team, said, ” Everybody was pretty worried, kind of worried about him and if he was going to come back and how it would affect the team. ”

At one point, Little said he thought he only had a month left to live.

In September of 2017 , doctors thought they may have found a match, but it ended up being a ” dry run, ” Little said.

” I was all ready to be cut on, all ready to be wheeled in, and doctor came in and said, ‘The lungs are bad.’ I was just, like, ‘Hey, it’s all good, man.’ He’s, like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Yeah, just wasn’t meant to be.’ ”

Then, on May 28, 2018, Little got a phone call from the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. It’s one he will never forget.

” We were getting ready for bed, and they called and said, ‘Hey, we got a pair of lungs. It’s high-risk lungs .’ We’re, like, ‘Well, what’s that mean?’ He said, ‘It’s your call, you know , whether you want them or not.’ So, we were, like, ‘Well, what’s the doc say?’ He’s, like, ‘Well, we wouldn’t be calling you if the doctor didn’t think it was a good idea.’ They said, ‘You’ve got 10 minutes. You can get on the road in 10 minutes or you’re going to have to air-fly it up. ‘ So, we told the kids, ‘Hey, load up! Let’s go! ‘ ”

The following day, Little underwent the double lung transplant operation. After missing two seasons, Little returned to the sidelines this year.

” Dude, I love him, ” said Culver’s senior tight end Clayton Mathews. ” He’s inspiring. He’s always getting on our butts about doing the right thing. He says the right thing at the right time, always. ”

Little downplays his brush with — well, dying.

He says everyone has something in their life that they’re dealing with. So he does not view his double lung transplant as a big deal.

Still, he uses his experience to preach life lessons to his players.

” Learn from what you go through, and be happy with what you have every day, ” Little said.

That attitude has helped Little, and the Culver football team, make a big recovery.

The Bulldogs had three total wins in those two seasons without Little. This year, they are 5-1 and off to their best start since 2008.

Little credits the team’s success to the players and his assistant coaches, but a change that drastic cannot be just a coincidence.

KTVZ 2019

Article Topic Follows: Central Oregon

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