Organ donor gives Smokies stadium manager new lease on life

KODAK, Tenn. (WATE) - On a chilly Saturday morning in mid-January, Dennis Snider's master key swings open the front gate of Smokies Stadium. The wind rushes through the concourse tunnel as he strolls toward the field.

“I’ve been a baseball fan, my whole life. There’s times I come out here in the daytime, and sit in the stands, and just look out at the field. It’s one of my favorite places.”

As the stadium manager for Sevierville and Sevier County Joint Ventures, Snider serves as the go-between for the Tennessee Smokies, the city, and the county.

"Dennis is my go-to guy. If I've got something I need to have done, he's the first person I call," says Smokies President Chris Allen.

As he eyes scan the field, Snider sees a new lease on life.

"I've been at this stadium since the opening, and there were times where I thought, I may not see it again," Snider says. "I remember my granddaughter sitting down on my lap and asking me if I was going to die. I said, 'no Kiara, I’m going to dance at your wedding.'”

In the summer of 2014, the grandfather of four sought medical attention for a worsening shortness of breath. The results: idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or IPF. The progressive disease is a scarring of lung tissue, making it increasingly difficult to breathe. As many as 40,000 Americans die each year from IPF.

Imagine trying to breathe through a straw 24/7. That’s what it’s like when your lungs are fibrosising,” says his wife of 40 years, Janice.

Snider was given two to five years to live, barring an organ transplant. In March 2015, he was placed on the Vanderbilt Transplant Center list. But with a rare B-negative blood type, a fit would take longer to find.

“There were times I hurt, hurt so bad," says Dennis.

“He never slowed down physically, but his color changed, he lost so much weight,” adds his wife.

His children, Vincent and Rachel, grew increasingly concerned.

“He couldn’t lay down in the bed," says Vincent. "He had to sleep a lot in the recliner.”

“When he would walk from the car to the house, the first chair he saw, he’d have to sit down. And he’d be huffing and puffing like he ran a marathon,” Rachel recalls. "We were really starting to wonder if he would get the call."

But in his faith, and his work, he found resolve.

“I’ve never feared dying, because I know what’s going to be waiting for me after. And I heard [WNML Radio Host] Jeff Jacoby say this as he was going through his battle with cancer, 'God’s driving the bus, I’m along for the ride.'”

“He was such a soldier," Janice smiles, admiration in her eyes. "Got up every day, was at work on time. Started with one container of oxygen, then it went to two!”

"I felt like I had to stay moving, had to keep my brain working.”

“It was tough to hear him, because the oxygen tank was turned up so loud," says Allen, as he reflected on one of their meetings. "I remember thinking, man I hope this happens for him soon, as far as this transplant.”

And then, exactly a year to the day he was first placed on the transplant list, the call they had been waiting for finally came.

“The Monday morning at 3:40 in the morning, after Easter Sunday, my phone rang, the lady says, Mr. Snider, this is Stacey at Vanderbilt, do you still want some lungs? Praise God, is the first thing that comes out of my mouth.”

His double-lung transplant wasn't a moment too soon.

“They told me, he would be gone by the summer.”

Asleep after an eight-hour surgery, Dennis woke up the next morning, with a fresh pair of lungs.

“Oh my goodness, the heavens opened up. I took a deep breath, which I hadn’t been able to do in so long.”

Dennis Snider's second wind was granted by an organ donor. And he can make good on his promise to his granddaughter because of it.

"If you want to leave a legacy behind when you go, my donor, their legacy lives on, and it's inside my chest right now."

If you'd like to learn more about how you can become an organ donor:

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