Marquette coach has Badger fan to thank
Marquette coach Tom Crean knows there will be a heckler at this home game, a guy decked out in Wisconsin red near the Golden Eagles bench giving him a hard time on Saturday.
Crean won't care at all.
That's how much the Marquette coach appreciates the work of Dr. Robert Love, a transplant guru at the University of Wisconsin Hospital.
Love is an unabashed Badgers fan who sports mascot Bucky on his head when he's in the operating room. He's also the guy who performed the life-saving double lung transplant on Marquette basketball special assistant Trey Schwab.
"He's so good, he can sit behind our bench with a red Wisconsin hat, a red Wisconsin shirt and yell at me for the whole game," Crean said. "He's earned it."
After all, Schwab might not still be here if it wasn't for Love.
This weekend's Wisconsin-Marquette game is like many rivalry games that will be played across the country over the course of the next month. The two schools are separated by an hour of Interstate 94. Crean and Badgers coach Bo Ryan often recruit the same kids (Wisconsin landed Brian Butch, Marquette signed Madison native Wes Matthews this fall). Both schools have won conference titles and reached the Final Four in recent years. And the fan bases of the respective schools, frankly, don't like each other too much.
Schwab, however, has helped coaches on both sides of this rivalry realize that there are things in life much more important than basketball.
"We compete with the University of Wisconsin in basketball, but they stepped up," Crean said. "(Badgers coach) Bo (Ryan) stepped up too. He got hotel rooms from Trey's family, he came to see him. That means a lot."
Schwab's story is simply amazing. Even he doesn't know exactly why he's still alive.
"I should be dead," Schwab said.
It was just about three years ago when Schwab was diagnosed with an incurable lung disease known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. By the middle of 2002, he was placed on a regional transplant list. As time went by, Schwab's condition worsened. He was constantly using oxygen during the Golden Eagles' run to the 2003 Final Four. During the games, a small tank sat on the floor under his seat.
Things only got worse from there. It was a year ago when doctors told him he had three to six months to live if he didn't get a transplant. The disease limited Schwab to the point where he could only work a few hours a day.
"The last six, seven months were a real bear," Schwab said. Still, Schwab, a former scout for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, didn't complain about his lot. He simply tried to live life every day, realizing that sulking wasn't going to solve anything.
"I've never seen a guy tougher," said former Marquette and current Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade. "I've been around a lot of guys who were tough mentally or tough physically, but none as tough as him. He came in every day and worked just as hard as anybody and he probably shouldn't have. I'm very blessed to have gotten to know him.
"He helped put things in perspective for everybody."
In February, Schwab finally received the call he had been waiting for -- a pair of lungs became available for him. "I was 98-percent packed. I had been for months," Schwab said. On Feb. 18, Schwab underwent successful transplant surgery.
Schwab's stay in the UW hospital wasn't marked by the days on the calendar, but rather by the games on the Marquette schedule. The first thing he remembers after the surgery was the phone call he got from Crean, his coaching staff and some of the players after Marquette played at South Florida. He does, however, remember March 1.
That's the day Schwab was dead for nearly an hour.
Schwab was hoping to be moved from intensive care to a regular room either that day or the next. But as he walked around the intensive care area that morning, he quickly realized something was wrong.
Blood clots broke loose that day and, in Schwab's words, "all hell kind of broke loose." The result was Schwab not able to breath, was blacking out and was rushed into surgery. For the better part of an hour, Schwab was unconscious and without a pulse. The clots prevented oxygen to get to his brain and other vital organs and should've produced significant damage.
That day, Marquette was preparing as if Schwab would be lost. A priest was en route from Milwaukee to Madison. Another priest was ready to talk to the players. Crean called several people close to Schwab to tell them the news, including Timberwolves assistant coach Jerry Sichting.
"Coach Crean said he was in deep trouble, so I called my wife and we were on our way to Madison," Sichting said. "We got several phone calls on the drive and every time the phone rang, I would think, 'This is going to be the bad one.' "
But the longer Schwab spent in surgery, the more optimistic Crean became. After all, the doctors wouldn't keep working if all was lost.
When Love came out of surgery, he said Schwab had some signs of life. There were concerns, however, whether the lack of oxygen had caused permanent damage. Schwab, however, escaped relatively healthy. He's back working. He's on the Marquette bench for games. He'll certainly let the officials know that on Saturday.
How he survived remains a mystery. Love said at a March press conference that "statistically, it's not even on the charts that he survived that." Love estimated that a healthy adult can survive for five or six minutes before irreversible brain damage occurs. He went as far as to use the word "impossible."
Schwab doesn't know the reason why he's still here, just like he doesn't know why he came down with the lung disease to begin with.
"It wasn't my time to go," Schwab said. "That's the only way you can look at it. You can offer up all kinds of theories you want, but you can't explain everything. The man upstairs wasn't ready for me, he has plans for me."
After being discharged from the hospital in late March, Schwab talked to the Marquette team prior to its NIT game against Boise State. When he was through, there wasn't a dry eye in the place.
"There were guys going through pregame warm-ups with tears in their eyes," Crean said. "They love him."
In the months that have followed, Schwab has become a visible figure in drives to increase the number of people who agree to have their organs donated. He's a spokesman for "Give Game -- Get Life," a program in which donor cards are distributed to fans at sporting events.
He threw out the first pitch at a Milwaukee Brewers game in conjunction with a donor event. He met with Wisconsin families that donated organs of their loved ones.
"I think he impacted the nation," Crean said of the attention that Schwab received during Marquette's Final Four run. "People paid attention. I don't know how people couldn't be impacted."
Schwab is simply thankful to be back living something close to a normal life. He can walk across campus without incident. He doesn't have to plan everything. He again has freedom to do what he wants.
"It's nice to be relatively healthy," Schwab said. "I've still got a ways to go. It'll probably be a year before I have my stamina back, but it feels good to be back."
This weekend, Schwab will again see Love, the guy who played a big role in his survival. Schwab, however, knows that for two hours on Saturday, Love will be cheering against him.
"Dr. Love, he's a huge basketball fan, a big Badgers fan," Schwab said earlier this fall. "I don't know who he's going to cheer for on Dec. 11. He'll probably cheer for us in 27 of the 28 games. We're getting him turned around."
Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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