COURTESY OF THE CAVANAUGH FAMILY
Laurie Cavanaugh and Danny Langsdorf recover together at Oregon Health and Science University hospital after the kidney transplant. Cavanaugh's body accepted the kidney from husband Mike's colleague immediately.
Cavanaughs find added purpose for move to Oregon State
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Mike Cavanaugh -- yes, that Coach Cav -- sounds as happy as he's ever been.
"You guys say, 'Chicken skin, brah.' This is chicken skin," the former Hawaii assistant says.
And it is. His wife underwent a kidney transplant in May -- and the donor was one of Cav's co-workers at Oregon State -- their friend, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf. Laurie Cavanaugh's kidney function was down to 10 percent, and they'd searched for a donor for a year and a half without finding a match. Even family couldn't qualify, but at last it was Langsdorf who was cleared to undergo a 4-hour surgery to give her one of his kidneys.
"It's the ultimate in friendship," Mike Cavanaugh said.
The two coaches were new guys on the staff together in 2005. As much as he was sad to leave Hawaii, he now believes there's a chicken-skin reason why he was meant to end up at Oregon State.
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THEY were all there together in the surgery waiting area at Oregon Health and Science University and they waited and they paced and they prayed. Danny Langsdorf's wife and her mother, and his parents and Laurie Cavanaugh's husband, Mike. They waited, and every hour or so the phone would ring. Ring! They're both sedated and stable and doing fine. Some time later, Ring! Laurie's left kidney was out, she's stable and doing fine. The phone rings again. Ring! Her right kidney's out. Everything is going according to plan.
But the next phone call. The next phone call was different. Ring!
Danny's kidney was in Laurie. And it was working.
Everything changed then. It was, as Mike Cavanaugh described it, "amazing." That was when everything flooded, and overflowed, overwhelming them and washing over them, a tsunami of joy and emotion and love.
It was only then that it really hit them what Danny Langsdorf had done.
DANNY LANGSDORF, the offensive coordinator at Oregon State, awoke from 4 hours of surgery in a still-drug-induced haze, and everyone in the room was crying.
Mike Cavanaugh was crying, and kissed him on the head.
Coach Cav, the gravel-voiced, big-hearted, hard-assed comedian, disciplinarian, character of an offensive line coach, had left Hawaii for Oregon State in 2005, and no one on the outside looking in could believe it was true.
He was just an assistant, but he was loved here, and he was famous here, his family was embraced here. Why leave? Why Oregon State? It turns out he didn't yet know himself, then, the reason -- the big reason, the real reason -- he was to end up there, with that team, on that staff.
"Divine intervention," Laurie Cavanaugh says.
"Divine intervention," Cav says, his voice catching, more gala-galas than gravel now.
On May 29, in the hospital that did one of the world's first kidney transplants, by the same doctor who did her uncle's more than 20 years ago, Laurie Cavanaugh got a new kidney. It was given to her by her husband's fellow assistant coach.
Cav and Danny had come in together, had joined the Beavers staff as new guys together. They hit it off immediately, their families too.
"In this coaching world, when you move so many times, there's people you hit it off with," Laurie says.
The Langsdorfs were those people for the Cavanaughs, and vice versa.
"We always had a pretty tight bond," Langsdorf says.
Still, this ...
"I tease her about it, make sure she's taking care of it," Langsdorf says.
"To see somebody do that for your wife and kids and you, it's amazing," Mike Cavanaugh says.
COURTESY OF THE CAVANAUGH FAMILY
Danny Langsdorf and Mike Cavanaugh ride a boat together on Priest Lake in Idaho, where the Langsdorfs have a house.
AUTOSOMOL DOMINANT polycystic kidney disease runs in Laurie Cavanaugh's family. Her father died from it. One of her brothers has already had a transplant. Her sister needs one.
When they moved from Hawaii to Oregon her kidneys were operating at 18 percent effectiveness. By this past spring, it was down to 10 percent. She needed a new one. It was serious, and getting more so.
They tried everyone. Family. No one was compatible as a donor. Then friends. Everywhere the Cavanaughs had been, everywhere Cav had coached, people volunteered to get tested. (If you think Don Murphy's a big booster now, he tried to donate a kidney. But he wasn't a match.)
It was a brutal, stressful time. Everything took forever.
"The emotions of hoping someone would come through and then they'd be rejected," Mike Cavanaugh says. "As soon as somebody got tested you're hoping it was the person. Your emotions are like a roller coaster, high highs and low lows." This went on for a year and a half.
"The lows were getting too low," Laurie says.
She was tired. Physically, emotionally.
Even the players could see the toll it was taking on their coach.
"With us, Cav showed a different side of himself," Beavers center Kyle DeVan told The Oregonian. "That was the love of his life and we understood how much she meant to him." Everyone could see it.
Danny Langsdorf looked it up on the Internet, talked it over with his wife. Then one day in a meeting room he looked over at his friend and said he wanted to volunteer to be tested. Just in case.
THIS IN ITSELF was no longer earth-shattering news. They'd had their heart broken too many times by then. But Langsdorf passed the first test, and then the next one. He kept passing them, squeezing long drives to Portland into his schedule as a Division I football coach. He had the most intense physical exam of his or anyone's life. He got a liver biopsy.
He got the go-ahead. He was the guy. It turned out it had to be him. This is why they ended up here. It turns out this is why they left Hawaii for Oregon State.
Laurie's antibodies -- "in the real world it means I have a strong immune system, it's a good thing" -- had made her an impossible match for just about anyone else. What are the chances that this was the guy?
"I told her I was a relative somehow from a long time ago," Langsdorf says.
They were so relieved and elated, when the surgery came along they were strangely at peace.
And it worked right away. It was perfect. His kidney. Her kidney. "Initially, after the surgery, you could see how good she looked," Mike Cavanaugh says. "The coloring on her face and everything."
She hasn't stopped getting better since. They took the shunt out last week. Her last biopsy says she's great. It's working. It's perfect. It's life, renewed.
That's what Langsdorf was hoping for, that's why he did this. He shrugs off having done anything more than a favor for a friend. The most he'll say is he's "relieved" it worked.
Laurie has misted up a few times, but the whole thing is just too big to fully grasp. "You're so grateful to Danny you don't know how to express it," she says.
No, it is left to tough guy Mike Cavanaugh to ponder the emotion of the enormity of it all. It is he who is continually floored by all that has happened, by the gift of life his family has been given by his friend.
"When he makes a commitment and he says he's going to do something he follows through with it," Mike Cavanaugh says of Danny Langsdorf. "And he went in there and hit a grand slam.
"It was unbelievable."
And Coach Cav is laughing as he says this, the kind of laughter you have when you're so happy everything you say comes out as a laugh. The kind of laughter that barely holds back tears.