Note: This episode of "Loudmouth Bass" re-airs on ESPN2 at 5 a.m. ET this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 28-30.
For scores of American families this Thanksgiving weekend, there will be plenty to be thankful for around tables bearing bountiful feasts.
But for the Mesar family of Wisconsin, there is something a little extra special to be thankful for this November — the gift of life … and for one who was willing to selflessly give it.
That's because on Aug. 24, Lonnie Mesar, 38, a passionate bass angler and deer hunter from Kaukauna, Wis., went under the knife and became a living organ donor.
On that same date, his kidney donation gave the precious gift of life to Shannon, his 36-year-old wife of two years who was suffering from a kidney disease that was progressing much quicker than doctors had originally feared.
The pair's inspiring holiday story of life, love and a transplant miracle will air coast-to-coast this Bass Saturday on ESPN2's "Loudmouth Bass" at 7:30 a.m. ET. (The episode re-airs on ESPN2 at 5 a.m. ET this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 28-30.)
Some 13 weeks removed from her surgery, Shannon Mesar is doing well in her post transplant recovery as she and her husband; her daughters, Tia and Mia; and his daughter, Amber, prepared to gather and count their blessings.
"Oh my goodness, absolutely," Shannon said earlier this week during an interview with ESPNOutdoors.com. "We've got mounds and mounds and mounds of things to be thankful for.
"I'll be thankful for my big, fat, fluffy kidney," she added. "That's what I would say — and for my husband and the gift that he gave me."
That Lonnie was able to give Shannon such a gift is a miracle in and of itself.
"In July, we started testing for live donors, but nobody in my family was able to be tested as a donor due to high blood pressure," Shannon said.
"That's when my husband volunteered to be tested, although they warned us that the odds (of a tissue match) would be pretty slim."
Despite such long odds, Lonnie nonetheless went through the extensive testing procedure to determine if he, in fact, would be able to donate one of his two good kidneys to his wife.
And that's when a miracle happened.
"I was the first to get tested," Lonnie said of the tissue and blood typing procedures. "They thought I wouldn't be a match and then they would go on to test friends and such."
"But they never got that far — they started and stopped with me."
What followed were even more extensive testing procedures and the counseling that a living donor receives prior to the donation surgery.
All along the way, the question was posed by medical personnel and counselors to Lonnie: "Are you sure you want to go through with this?"
Never once did he hesitate to say, "Yes."
"It's a lot more personal to me," Lonnie said. ""This is not just the gift of life; it's the gift of life for my wife to keep her with me as long as possible."
For Shannon, the transplant surgery in August didn't necessarily bring the relief that one would normally expect for one facing such a life-giving procedure.
In addition to her own pre-surgery jitters, Shannon was forced to wait in a lonely, sterile pre-op room as her husband underwent major surgery — for her sake.
"I was sick with worry for him," Shannon said. "I was more nervous for my husband, since he was going into surgery to give me something."
After two and a half hours of surgery to remove the healthy kidney from Lonnie, Shannon's doctor's rolled her into the operating room for her own two-hour transplant procedure.
After both successful operations, a Wisconsin family that earlier this year shuddered with fear of the unknown is finally able to look to the future with confidence and optimism.
All thanks for the gift of life from a loving husband to his ailing wife.
"I get misty eyed about it — there aren't any words to describe it," Shannon said. "I'm healthy again because of my husband."
"I almost choke up about it 70 times a day when I think about it. My kids say stop, but I can't stop," she added.
"It's not a sad thing, but it's emotional."
Thanksgiving is a lot different this year for the family.
"Last year on Thanksgiving Day, there was a lot at our feast that I couldn't eat," said Shannon, who was on a strict renal diet. "I'm not going to engorge myself, but I will be able to enjoy the things that I like."
And it's exactly that — enjoying the things that we like — that recently inspired Shannon to find the perfect way to say thanks to her husband for his selfless gift.
"My husband really loves 'Loudmouth Bass,'" Shannon said. "So I sent them an e-mail with our story and lo and behold, it turned into a fishing trip for television."
Last week, in November weather conditions more reminiscent of Wisconsin than North Carolina, the couple traveled to the show's production headquarters in Charlotte so that Lonnie could fish on nearby Lake Norman with show co-host Mark Zona and the "Loudmouth Bass" camera crew.
"The fishing weather, in a nutshell, was miserable," Zona laughed. "The wind was blowing 30 mph."
While Zona and Lonnie did catch a few bass during their rough outing, neither would have minded trading places with Shannon.
"We treated his wife to a day in the health spa and Lonnie to a day of fishing," Zona said. "I'm not going to lie. With that weather; I would have traded the day of fishing for the day in the spa!"
Even so, the angling action caught by the ESPN Outdoors cameras complemented a story that is nothing short of heartwarming.
"My thoughts when I initially heard about it are that you're honored that these people want to come out and hang around you and stuff like that," Zona said.
The Mesar's story also gave Zona pause for his own holiday reflections on what matters most in life.
"In the grand scheme of things, after hanging around folks like that, you see that sometimes we take life for granted when things are going great," Zona said.
"We need to take a step back and go 'Whoa — things can change in a minute,'" he added.
"That's the one thing I took from this — to cherish everyday and cherish the friends and family we have when they're around."
After his own heartwarming holiday comments, it didn't take long for Zona to quickly turn back to the trademark humor for which he is known.
"I did make the comment that I thought he had taken care of quite a few Christmases in the future, however," Zona laughed.
"I told him if I ever need a body organ, he's the first person I'm calling."
While Lonnie is a died-in-the-wool Wisconsin deer hunter (he and his brother Lenny recently helped guide Tia to her first whitetail buck, a nine-pointer) he admits he will not be in the woods this particular "Bass Saturday."
Instead, he'll be parked in front of the TV screen and the radio to watch and listen as others across the nation learn of his family's inspiring story.
"Yeah, I'll be up in plenty of time for it," Lonnie said. "I'm an early riser anyway, so I'll be up at 5 and have the coffee ready."
Next to him taking it all in will be a thankful Shannon, who enjoys hunting and fishing in her own right and is already anticipating her own return to the Wisconsin deer woods next fall.
And when she does, she'll be in a deerstand next to the man that made such dreams possible.
"To look at him now, you'd never know he went through the surgery and gave up a kidney," Shannon said.
"He's like Superman. He's certainly my Superman."
This episode of "Loudmouth Bass" re-airs on ESPN2 at 5 a.m. ET this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 28-30.