GREENVILLE — For months, Dar Morgan would stroll around the building site of Legacy Field in Greenville as construction workers kept busy erecting walls and moving dirt in an effort to build the new football stadium through the autumn and winter months of 2011.
A Greenville High School graduate who played football at Black Field, Morgan couldn’t travel far from his sister Tami Morgan-Stump’s residence at the end of West Tyler Street because he had a battery-powered left ventricle assisted device (LVAD) aiding his weakened heart.
But with the future stadium just 300 feet away, Morgan was able to walk with his sister, who was also his caregiver and handler of the LVAD device, and observe the construction with excitement and curiosity.
He would wait for the day when he could sit in the stands and watch the first game to be played in the stadium as the Greenville Yellow Jackets would take on their rival Belding Redskins.
But Morgan wasn’t simply waiting on a football game between town rivals. He desperately needed a new heart. A stronger, healthier heart, with which to proudly bleed purple and gold once again.
At just 53 years of age, his heart had been attacked by cardiomyopathy, a disease that left his heart operating at just 14 percent efficiency. Without a new heart, Morgan would be bound to the LVAD device for the rest of his life.
On March 2, 2012, as the snow melted and the stadium began to take shape, that new heart arrived from a donor and Morgan was rushed to Grand Rapids where he underwent surgery for a heart transplant.
The transplant was a success, but within hours, Morgan suffered a setback.
First, a stroke, which paralyzed the left side of his body. Then, infection, which soon began to complicate matters further. Doctors soon began multiple procedures to remove the blockage that caused the stroke, as well as provide medication to kill the infection, but in the end, there was little remaining the doctors could do. The stroke had done its damage, and the effects of the medication had destroyed his kidneys.
It wasn’t long before Morgan was dependent on both kidney dialysis and a ventilator to survive.
A final request
After 15 months in the hospital, now at the age of 55, Morgan’s condition has only worsened. He was recently removed from kidney dialysis and will soon see the absence of his ventilator as well, giving him very little time left.
Knowing that his fate is coming, that he may only have a few days or weeks left before he passes, Morgan made one final request.
An entire season had been played at Legacy Field by the Yellow Jackets, but Morgan had never seen the completed stadium.
“Take me back to Greenville,” he told members of his family using all of his energy to mouth the words. “I want to see the field.”
After special arrangements were made to transport Morgan to hospice at Spectrum Health United Hospital in Greenville on Saturday, his ambulance made a slight detour off of M-57 and onto S. Greenville West Drive. The ambulance then turned into the entryway of Legacy Field, where nearly 100 friends, family and members of the community awaited him in the north end zone.
With the gates opened just for him, Morgan made a trip normally reserved for players and coaches.
The ambulance backed up into the tunnel entrance of the stadium and approached the edge of the artificial turf coming to a stop.
As both doors opened, Morgan’s last wish was finally granted.
The sight laid out before before him was that of friends and family cheering, hugging and crying, with the new stadium serving as a breathtaking backdrop behind them. Morgan gave a steady, weakened wave of his hand to the crowd as his eyes scanned over the field he once watched be built. His wave then turned into a “thumbs up” as he was fitted with a Yellow Jacket baseball cap.
As everyone cheered, Morgan looked on, managing a small, but clearly evident, smile.
He was home.
“He’s always wanted to come back and see it done and he’s never had that opportunity until today,” said Morgan’s sister, Lori Hollenbeck, fighting back tears. “It was just awesome, no words could explain it. It means so much to us to see everyone here.”
On a field named for legacies set decades ago and for those sure to come in the future, Morgan took part in what was arguably the most pure and lasting moment in the stadium’s brief history.
“We did it, we made it, we got him back to the football field,” said Morgan’s daughter, Anne Morgan. “We’re here for him, to make him comfortable and cheer him on to the gates of heaven.”
Morgan couldn’t stay for more than a few minutes, but he was able to stay long enough that each and every member of the community who turned out to see him could greet him individually and say goodbye a final time.
“It’s bittersweet, but this was all done in love,” Hollenbeck said. “It was a relief to me that he got to see everyone and see the football field.”
For Morgan’s youngest daughter, Ali Morgan, seeing her father finally make it to the one place he desired to visit reminded her of his never-ending spirit.
“Most people don’t get the opportunity to say their goodbyes and take a trip down memory lane, it’s been a huge blessing to us,” she said. “We need to have courage and he needs to have courage, so we are in it together. We know he’s going to a better place and wont be suffering anymore.”
In his words
In an interview with the Daily News on Feb. 1, 2012, one month before his transplant surgery, Morgan said he was content with his decision to receive a transplant, knowing full well the risks involved.
Faced with either undergoing the transplant or living off of his LVAD device for the remainder of his life, Morgan said his choice was always to go with the transplant.
“You’re either going to live on this machine the rest of your life, or you’re going to use it as a bridge to transplant, and my goal is to bridge to a transplant,” he said. “For me, I’ve done what I can do. Believe it or not, this is up to the good lord now. I’m in his hands now.”
Leading up to his transplant, Morgan said he had two pressing issues on his mind, the first being to spread awareness about organ donation.
“I ask and I reach out to people, and all I can ask is, be a donor,” he pleaded. “Get yourself on the donor list. When you’re gone, when that light switch finally goes out, you’ve got a heart, a pancreas, and kidneys — give them away.”
Morgan also stated that he hopes he can serve as an example to others to make sure they stay healthy, especially when it comes to the heart and fighting against heart disease.
“There is hope when situations like this occur,” he said. “There are people out here like me, that don’t know where to go or what to do. If you have any heart condition whatsoever, get yourself checked out. Take care of yourself. Walk when you can. Walk six blocks or walk a mile if you can. It’s easier said then done, but how do you want to live your life? I don’t want anybody else to go through this, and it can happen to anybody.”
An athletic scholarship at Greenville High School in Morgan’s name is being planned for the future.