By writer to www.dailyindependent.com
Kevin Lewis meant to absorb the opening spherical of the ladies Candy Sixteen on March 12, as a result of that is what he is achieved yearly since 1996.
Lewis has attended the match in Bowling Inexperienced, Richmond, Frankfort, Bowling Inexperienced (once more), Highland Heights and now Lexington. In a typical yr, the Lewis County Excessive College steerage counselor and former Girl Lions head coach goes with Lewis County coach Jay Fite, Raceland coach Ron Keeton, Girl Rams assistant Nick Lemon, The Each day Impartial photographer Kevin Goldy and a rotating forged of different coaches and basketball-minded individuals.
However typical under no circumstances utilized to this yr’s Candy Sixteen: it was postponed indefinitely 5 video games in and later canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Lewis and his household by no means made it to Lexington.
That will have labored out for the perfect. Lewis did not realize it for sure on the time, however he wanted a liver transplant as a result of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Lewis knew he was sick, having spent 12 days at Southern Ohio Medical Middle in Portsmouth in February and 5 of them within the ICU. He bought out simply hours earlier than oldest daughter Macy’s Senior Day festivities at Lewis County on Feb. 15 — which had already been postponed every week, with different seniors’ relations’ blessing, together with a grandmother touring from Florida, in hopes Lewis may attend.
“After I did get out (at SOMC), they mainly advised me, this can be a Band-Help,” Lewis mentioned. “‘You are getting out; you are attending to go do what you need, to be along with your daughter, however this is not gonna go away.’ After a couple of month, I advised my spouse one weekend, ‘The Band-Help’s been pulled off.'”
9 days after the video games he missed, together with 16th Area Match champion Russell’s never-fulfilled date at Rupp Enviornment, Lewis went on the liver transplant checklist.
9 days after that, they discovered him one. Then it was time for late-night high-stakes surgical procedure, remoted from his household due to the specter of the coronavirus and with the world asleep — besides a minimum of one shut buddy.
Stated Fite: “It simply became form of a scary scenario.”
Going approach again
Lewis and Fite met in 1993, the autumn of which started the final college yr at Tollesboro Excessive College earlier than it was absorbed by Lewis County.
The transfer was fraught with political and sociological implications — many residents of Tollesboro, positioned on the far western border of Lewis County, did not wish to their children to go to high school in Vanceburg, positioned a 16-mile drive east.
Lewis had his ft in each camps in that 1993-94 college yr — he taught at Lewis County Center College by day and assisted Tollesboro boys basketball coach Randy Harrison within the afternoons and evenings.
“The final yr they did not play,” Lewis mentioned of the Lions and the Wildcats, who regardless of being in the identical county have been in numerous areas, owing largely to Tollesboro aligning itself with 10th Area nation. He added with a chuckle, “Usually we did, however that yr we didn’t, which, I used to be very joyful.”
Fite was a junior that season at Tollesboro. He transferred to Mason County as a substitute of attending Lewis County for his senior yr, however ended up in Vanceburg anyway when he took over because the Girl Lions’ coach in 2003 — two seasons after Lewis vacated that spot, having stepped apart after seven seasons as this system’s winningest coach.
Fite coached Lewis County’s women for 2 seasons, took over Bracken County’s boys for 2 years and returned to Vanceburg as a boys assistant for 2 extra seasons earlier than starting a second stint as Lewis County’s women coach that continues right now.
At that time, Fite’s relationship with Lewis was rekindled. They share a handful of commonalities: each have piloted the Girl Lions, each dwell in Tollesboro, and so they additionally work carefully collectively at college, with Lewis a steerage counselor and Fite a credit score restoration trainer — serving to college students who’re behind get caught up.
They’re additionally shut on the Girl Lions’ all-time wins checklist. Fite surpassed Lewis for high spot in that group.
“I get to speak to Kevin loads in regards to the college students and what they want,” Fite mentioned. “That kinda began issues for us as effectively outdoors of basketball, after which he solely lives a pair miles from me. As soon as we actually began hanging out somewhat bit, touching base with basketball, we bought to do another issues right here round the home.”
By 2011, that included the start of a practice of attending the ladies state match collectively. By happenstance, Fite and Lewis ran into Keeton, then a Girl Rams assistant, and his boss, then-Raceland women head coach Bob Trimble, at E.A. Diddle Enviornment.
“We sat collectively watching the video games, ended up having a meal collectively,” Keeton mentioned, “and it is kinda advanced into this friendship that all of us have.”
The coaches’ relationship has progressed to incorporate common group texting, annual attendance on the Hop Brown Golf Scramble in the summertime and real concern for one another’s households and gamers.
“I do know Ron talks loads about basketball being about relationships, and it is fallen into that mould,” Fite mentioned. “It is an excellent factor to see these opposing coaches that truly care about not simply me, however about gamers and households of these gamers.”
That additionally contains Lewis, who hasn’t coached varsity basketball since 2002 — he is achieved stints as a Lewis County soccer assistant, softball head and assistant coach, and assistant center college women basketball coach to Kirk Ruggles since then — however has match into the group of present coaches.
Lewis can also be near Lewis County assistant Scott Osborne, one other fellow Tollesboro resident who has attended a minimum of one state match with the group and who coached Central Elementary’s group with Lewis for 4 years when Lewis’s daughters performed there.
Osborne works carefully with Fite and Lewis in addition to Lewis County’s Youth Service Middle coordinator.
Nonetheless one other Tollesboro/Lewis County connection: Ruggles was a senior for the Wildcats of their final season, the yr Lewis coached there, and spent a while on Fite’s highschool employees.
Lewis has befriended Keeton and Lemon and has one other tie to Raceland’s employees — Girl Rams assistant Bob Bryson was the primary coach Lewis ever went up in opposition to in a varsity sport. He skippered Greenup County when the Girl Lions met the Girl Musketeers within the 1995-96 season opener.
All of them shared a particular second on Jan. 3, when Lewis County honored Lewis and all his former gamers at a sport with Raceland — specifically chosen due to their staffs’ shut relationship. Lewis additionally bought to share it together with his daughters, Girl Lions senior Macy and freshman Jaden, and spouse Paula, Lewis County’s director of particular schooling and preschool.
“For it to be Ron and Nick and all of them, that was particular for me,” Lewis mentioned. “On the finish, after our ceremony was over, Ron and his teaching employees and his gamers got here to me and all of them shook my hand and gave me hugs, and so they gave me a group ball with their gamers’ and coaches’ signatures on it, and I believed that was a really particular factor from them.”
That was earlier than Lewis’s stint at SOMC, however Keeton may already inform his buddy wasn’t feeling effectively, he mentioned.
“You did not wish to pry, as a result of he’s a really non-public man, however there was concern and you can see he was struggling, health-wise,” Keeton mentioned. “You might see he was dropping pounds. I imagine he did not know to the extent of how sick he was till he ended up within the ICU, however for us, coach Lemon and myself, it was fairly scary. You noticed anyone that you have had a lot enjoyable with and all the time been a reasonably robust and lively man, and … you can inform he was struggling each time you noticed him.”
Private, however not in-person
A month to the day after Lewis and his former gamers have been feted in The Jungle, he was admitted to SOMC’s ICU. Lewis’s bloodwork “was simply out of whack,” he mentioned, a primary indication stronger measures have been wanted.
He bought out in time for Macy’s Senior Day on Feb. 15 — just below the gun, as that Saturday matinee was Lewis County’s final dwelling sport — however started going to Cincinnati for lab work and assessments. His first appointment at UC was Feb. 18. Lewis had two extra visits there earlier than being admitted on March 18 after being unable to finish a stress check, he mentioned.
Three days later, Lewis, 50, went on the liver transplant checklist, having no thought how lengthy he must be on it.
Because it turned out, a liver grew to become accessible on March 30. By that time, he hadn’t been capable of have any guests, together with his spouse and daughters, for every week due to the specter of COVID-19.
Lewis did not like that, and he did not just like the circumstances, however he was a minimum of glad he made it in when he did.
“Simply inside days after me getting admitted, they have been closing down flooring, making an attempt to save lots of room,” Lewis mentioned. “No guests, which damage me, however apart from that, I couldn’t have requested for higher timing with that.”
Lewis FaceTimed together with his household each night time and mates every now and then, and Lewis County lecturers made him a video and college students despatched him messages. Paula was tasked with holding Lewis’s circle updated on his care and situation.
“We’re not on Fb or something, my spouse or I, both one,” Lewis mentioned, “however we have been advised that for 2 individuals to not be on Fb, our title’s most likely on there greater than lots of people which might be on Fb. … Individuals have been saying that I used to be on each prayer chain you can consider in japanese Kentucky.”
The night time he bought the liver, Lewis known as Fite at about 10:15 p.m. and Paula texted Keeton round 11 that he was going into surgical procedure instantly.
“I used to be shocked, like, this has been 9 days,” mentioned Keeton, who had anticipated doubtlessly a for much longer look ahead to a liver.
Lewis went underneath the knife simply after midnight on March 31.
“You are actually making an attempt to be optimistic, and you understand it is a very harmful surgical procedure,” Keeton mentioned. “I did not sleep in any respect that night time. I laid right here studying tales about what was happening with the pandemic and tried to play just a few card video games on my cellphone.”
‘Proper now, I really feel good’
Keeton’s stressed night time was interrupted — pleasantly — at about 5:45 a.m. when Paula texted him that the surgical procedure had gone effectively.
Lewis did not get out till April 6 — he needed to spend some extra time within the ICU first, as a matter of coverage — however he feels “the perfect I’ve felt in two or three years,” he mentioned.
Lewis is within the “preliminary restoration section” for 4 to 6 weeks, he mentioned, throughout which era he cannot drive and cannot be alone.
“I really feel stronger, there is not any doubt about it,” Lewis mentioned. “After all, you continue to have some doubt. To this point all the pieces appears to simply be going good. And I do know that is gonna be an uphill grind; all the pieces’s not gonna be good alongside the best way; I do know I am gonna have setbacks alongside the best way.
“Proper now, I really feel good.”
His colleagues can inform. Though they have not been capable of go to Lewis in individual, Keeton and Fite have spoken with him on the cellphone.
“He known as me after he had gotten somewhat little bit of relaxation,” Keeton mentioned, “and he appeared like his outdated self. You might inform instantly that he wasn’t as drained.”
Added Fite: “He sounds a lot better, he appears a lot better, and hopefully issues are positively shifting in the correct route for him.”
A return to normalcy
Along with his aforementioned mates, Lewis has a protracted line of individuals towards whom he feels gratitude — Lewis County Colleges superintendent Jamie Weddington and highschool principal Jack Lykins, and all the medical personnel he encountered throughout his saga, together with Drs. Theodore Tanke and Jesse Houghton at SOMC, nurse practitioners Jason Swords and Farryn Bussa, and a few staffers at SOMC whom Lewis had taught or served as steerage counselor.
“I believed that was nice,” Lewis mentioned, “to see our homegrown children deal with you want that and know precisely what is going on on.”
Lewis got here away from the expertise with an appreciation for organ donation. He hopes to fulfill the household of the individual whose liver he now has to precise his gratitude, although he mentioned he’d perceive if that does not work out.
“We’ve really had individuals attain out and say that they’d by no means thought of organ donation as a result of they’d by no means recognized anyone to obtain one,” Paula mentioned, “however now, I’ve had a number of individuals inform me that they’ve already added their title (to the donation registry).”
April is Nationwide Donate Life Month.
Lewis realized yet another lesson he is joyful to impart.
“Primary, deal with your self health-wise,” he mentioned. “It was a matter of me not going to the physician like I ought to have been. … I am a cussed individual, I will say that. However in the event you suppose one thing is flawed, discover out what it’s.”
He lastly did. Now he is again to the conventional lifetime of a father or mother of two excessive schoolers. Macy is certain for Morehead State within the fall — assuming the necessity for social distancing and sheltering at dwelling has receded by then. Keeton is already engaged on getting her a job within the athletic division — the identical place his graduating daughter, Krystal, at present holds. And Lewis is trying ahead to spending three extra years working at Lewis County as Jaden attends there.
“We have gotten to take a seat down and spend a whole lot of time collectively, simply me and them,” Lewis mentioned of his daughters. “I am making an attempt to take pleasure in each minute I can of each of them.”
A treasured present and a blessed return to normalcy.
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