Retired football coach Tom Martinez, 66, says if there’s ever a key to success on the field, it’s this: Don’t quit.
“I tell the kids I don’t care who it is, I don’t care where we go, I don’t care where we play, we don’t whine about officials’ calls, we don’t whine about weather conditions,” said Martinez. “You play hard and you play right to the end.”
He’s credited with grooming many successful athletes, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Now Martinez, who coached at the College of San Mateo until 2005, when he retired for health reasons, is putting his own words to play.
Martinez, who suffered from kidney failure, found himself in need of a kidney transplant. For two years, the search for a donor has not been successful. Three months ago, Martinez’s doctors told him he had only a few more months to live.
“I’ve been told I’m out of here, and I don’t accept that,” said Martinez. “I’m going to fight to the end.”
That’s why Brady has adopted that no-quit attitude to help his mentor Martinez connect with a match.
Brady is spreading the word through a banner he’s been circulating online for the past four weeks through MatchingDonor.com, a nonprofit organization that can help interested living donors communicate their options.
The organization considers itself the first step to any type of organ donation, before donors ever agree to undergo the transplant. Those in need of a transplant post their own profile for those interested in donating to look through. Once they find a recipient they may want to help, they can start an initial conversation, which can potentially lead to testing through the recipients’ transplant center coordinator to see if the interested donor is a match.
“We don’t like to promote one person or another,” said Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, medical director at MatchingDonor.com. “If Tom Martinez is helping people get to this site, then that’s great.”
Martinez met a then 13-year-old Brady at a quarterback football camp Martinez led in California. Brady has come back to learn from Martinez every year since.
“He’s one of the fiercest competitors I have ever known,” said Martinez. “He wants to do things 100 percent.”
But Brady and Martinez’s relationship is better than a great throw.
“Tom is, you know, not giving up on his coach. I can’t express it into words my gratitude,” he said. “That was the greatest thing he could have done for me because it brought forth people now that possibly we have a chance to get a match on.”
Nearly 90,000 people in the U.S. are awaiting a kidney transplant, and nearly 3,000 people are added to the United Network for Organ Sharing national waiting list each month.
“Every time he puts one out, we get about 300 people come in to see if they’re a match,” said Paul Dooley, CEO of Matchingdonors.com, in Canton, Mass.
Even if they are not considered a match for Martinez, these volunteers may potentially help save another life, Dooley said.
“The waiting list is getting larger and larger,” said Lowney. “I think we need any help we can get.”
Many people hesitate to become living donors because they fear that giving away a part of their organ while they’re still alive could create health problems for them later in life, Lowney said.
But studies that have tracked donors over decades, including one published January 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that living kidney donors were just as healthy as many in the general population who are not donors.
“People need to know that you can do this as a live organ donor,” said Lowney.
Martinez, who has coached more games to victory than he can count and has mentored more athletes who continue to depend on him, seems to always find the best to say about his athletes such as Tom Brady.
“He obviously is the summation of everything you attempt to teach,” he said. “I know him well enough to know that he’s a much bigger star off the field than on the field.”
But when asked about his own condition, and the hope for finding a kidney, Martinez depends on his teammates in life — Brady, his family and potential donors — to help him make it through.
“I always tell myself, just another challenge, just another bump in the road,” Martinez said with tears in his eyes. “And I’m a proud person, so I try to go over the bumps by myself, but in this case I needed help going over the bump.”
“I’m very deep in appreciation, and many times I don’t know how to say it,” he said.