NASCAR engineer's dad celebrates the gift of life at Sunday's race

Lloyd Carr, U-M transplant surgeons, kidney recipient encourage organ, blood, bone marrow and tissue donation through Wolverines for Life


Promoting Wolverines for Life are, from left, NASCAR engineer Chris Heroy, kidney donor Andy Heroy, kidney recipient Michael Heroy, Lloyd Carr, Dr. Chris Sonnenday and Dr. Shawn Pelletier.

BROOKLYN, Mich. — About two years ago, Michael Heroy scratched his leg at a family event. But that simple injury got complicated real fast: he looked down and saw fluid leaking from his leg.

The conversations with his doctors also quickly became serious. Heroy, father of four children who was in his early 60s, was going to need a new kidney.

Heroy’s four children all volunteered to donate one of their kidneys to save their dad. Three of the four children were a match including his son Chris, who is lead engineer on the No. 5 NASCAR Sprint Cup team. Ultimately his son Andy’s schedule worked best for the operation.

Michael Heroy, a double alum from U-M who played four years in the venerable Michigan Marching Band, was happy to come to U-M Medical School for his transplant. The operation took place Jan. 12, 2011, when Andy’s kidney was removed by U-M surgeon Shawn Pelletier, M.D., and placed into his father by U-M surgeon Christopher Sonneday, M.D. Heroy says he’s feeling great now.

On Sunday, Father’s Day 2011, Michael and his two sons Christopher and Andy gathered at Michigan International Speedway to enjoy the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Michael Heroy, who lives in Angola, Ind., says this is a special Father’s Day, when first and foremost on his mind is the amazing gift of life he received from his son. It is a gift he can’t repay, and one he hopes to encourage others to consider by signing up on their state organ donor registry.

Michael Heroy thanked his son Andy for the ultimate Father's Day present at Sunday's race, and his son joked "I didn't get him anything this year."

The Heroys encouraged people to become organ donors at a press conference before today’s race, joined by their U-M surgeons and Lloyd Carr, the former University of Michigan football coach and recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee.

Carr served as the Grand Marshal for the Father’s Day Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday.

At the race, Carr promoted Wolverines for Life, an effort to encourage life-saving blood, organ and tissue donations. Wolverines for Life is a collaboration between many groups at the University of Michigan, including the Health System and the Athletics Department, along with the American Red Cross, Be the Match/National Marrow Donor Program, Gift of Life Michigan and the Michigan Eye-Bank.

“I am a Wolverine for Life, and that goes well beyond the athletic field. Through Wolverines for Life we hope to wipe out the deaths that occur because people are waiting for life-saving organs, blood or tissue. Every day, 19 people die while waiting for a transplant. That’s a score we can’t live with,” Carr said. "I signed up as a donor many years ago, and I urge everyone out there to do the same."

U-M has one of the oldest and largest transplantation programs in the country and U-M surgeons perform transplants of hearts, lungs, pancreas, livers, kidneys, and corneas. About 400 to 450 transplants are done at U-M annually, mostly kidney transplants followed by liver, heart, lung and pancreas.

Pelletier says the majority of the more than 100,000 people currently on waiting lists for organs are waiting for kidneys. He says people like Andy Heroy need to be congratulated.

"In my opinion, living donors fit the definition of a true hero," Pelletier says.

Sonnenday adds: "Many patients will wait three to five years or more for a kidney transplant unless they fortunate to have a hero, a living donor ... His son Andrew gave him an incredible gift, a living donor kidney. In fact, all four of his children were willing to give him a kidney, which I think is an appropriate thing to celebrate on Father's Day."


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