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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Superintendent of the Year finalist: Brian Conn, Transit Valley CC

Brian Conn's decision two years ago to part with a vital organ was as much about his own salvation as it was about helping to save the life of someone else.

0101819conn.jpgConn, superintendent at Transit Valley Country Club in East Amherst, New York, still had been struggling personally with his father's suicide in 2015 when he read an email early in 2017 from the Western New York GCSA informing recipients that one of their colleagues, Scott Dodson of Park Country Club of Buffalo, was suffering from kidney failure and was in need of a transplant. Conn (left) and Dodson are shown together in the picture at right from The Buffalo News. 

Conn's decision to open the email and ultimately donate a kidney to help his colleague was instrumental in him being named a finalist for the 2018 TurfNet Superintendent of the Year Award, presented by Syngenta.

At that moment he read the email detailing Dodson's condition, a feeling came over Conn, then 48, that he should do what he could to help his fellow man. He bounced the idea off his wife then decided to call the number in the email to put his name on a potential donor list.

"Don't tell me I'm crazy, but God told me to do it. I didn't hear voices or anything like that, but I was in emotional recovery after my father," Conn said. "It's something I can't explain.

"I was reconnecting with my faith and trying to get myself through this and get my family through this. My wife was all in. If she had had reservations, it would have been all over. I made the call without even telling my kids."

Only 5 miles separate Transit Valley and Park Country Club, but until the kidney transplant saga connected these two men forever, they knew each other only professionally, and even then they did not know each other well.

"The amazing thing is that Brian and I had not really been close friends," Dodson wrote in nominating Conn for Superintendent of the Year. We had chatted at various meetings and had served on the WNYGCSA board together. . . . We were little more than casual acquaintances."

Recently, Dodson celebrated his one-year anniversary with one of Conn's kidneys. Since the operation in January 2018, the two have become like family.

"There isn't a day that goes by that I do not think of what Brian has done for me and my family," Dodson wrote. 

"Brian is now like a brother to me. We see each other quite often and our families get together socially. The Conn and Dodson families are forever linked."

Of course, I was on my own journey here, and it was as much in my interest that he do this for me, and I did for him.

Had he not been dealing with his own demons at the time, Conn said this he probably wouldn't have a role in this drama.

"I don't know if I would have done this had I been in the same place in my life; probably not," Conn said. "I would probably have thought 'that's too bad', said a quick prayer for him and moved on to the next email. The road for this to happen was paved by tragedy."

Agreeing to be a potential donor was one thing; going through the tests and ultimately the surgery was another matter entirely.

Tests revealed Conn's blood type to be O-negative, making him a universal donor and moving him to the front of the line for transplant donors.

The procedure was delayed by a summer renovation project at Park Country Club, a busy season at Transit Valley and the need to put Dodson on dialysis for a few months to get him healthy enough for such an invasive procedure.

It wasn't until late in the summer of 2017 that Conn approached Dodson to tell him he was the donor. He waited because, he had learned, some donors refuse donations from family or friends, because they don't want to put a loved one in harm's way. 

"I didn't know if he'd take it," Conn said. 

"Of course, I was on my own journey here, and it was as much in my interest that he do this for me, and I did for him."

Both are husbands and fathers of grown children and know how important it is to be around for loved ones, even if their relationship to that point had been only business casual.

"A rush of feelings overcame me the moment he told me of his intentions," Dodson said. "At first, I was skeptical and almost in denial that this really could be happening. After an awkward moment of silence, the floodgate of tears opened.

"Brian risked his own health so I could have a chance to enjoy a normal life again. This is an act of incredible generosity, selflessness and courage. 

The day Brian informed me of his decision to donate, I asked him 'Why me?' and he his answer was very simple. He stated 'because it is the Christian thing to do.' I will be forever grateful and in his debt."

Edited by John Reitman

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