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Student gives up football to donate kidney

November 26, 1997

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ To Daniel Huffman, the choice was easy. He gave up a kidney and his dream of playing college football so his grandmother could live.

``I love my grandmother to death and I knew this was just what I wanted to do,″ Huffman said Wednesday. ``It was just as much for me as it was for her because I didn’t want to lose my grandmother.″

His sacrifice landed Huffman, 18, at the home of his favorite college team _ the Florida State Seminoles _ with a full scholarship as a student trainer. It’s also thrust him in the national spotlight _ he’s appeared on Oprah and in People magazine. A TV movie is in the works.

Most important, the grandmother who helped raise him is thriving. More than a year after the kidney transplant, Shirlee Allison, 62, said she feels fantastic.

And Huffman said he feels blessed at the way things have turned out _ even though he sometimes misses playing football.

``Every now and then when I hear the pads popping, there’s always this wish to be out to be out there,″ he said from his home in Rossville, Ill.

Huffman, who is 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, said he doesn’t know if he was good enough to play college ball. But even if he were, there was no choice between his grandmother’s life and the game.

Born in Jacksonville, Fla., Huffman was raised in the small town of Rossville, a couple of hours south of Chicago, by his father and paternal grandparents. He has lived with his grandparents the last six years.

As a junior in high school two years ago Huffman drove his grandmother to dialysis three times a week. Her kidneys were failing because of her diabetes.

An honor student, Huffman did some independent research. He talked to his grandmother’s nurses. He talked to a surgeon. Then he talked to his grandmother.

Allison’s condition was deteriorating and Huffman told her it was ridiculous to wait for a kidney donation from someone else when he was young and healthy.

``I told him `No! If you do that, you can’t ever play football again,‴ Allison said. ``He said `I know that.‴

Football was all Huffman thought about since he was little, according to his grandmother. In high school, he was co-captain of his team and a star tackle.

``He just lived, breathed and slept football,″ Allison said.

But Huffman, who is also interested in literature and writing, was determined he was going to give his grandmother a kidney.

``He just steamrollered right over me,″ she said. ``He was just going to do it and that was all there was to it. Once he gets something in his mind, that’s it.″

Allison felt better the minute she woke up from the surgery in July 1996.

``When Daniel saw me for the first time, I was laughing and joking and everything,″ she said. ``He said right then, `Grandma, I know I did right.‴

Six months after the transplant, Huffman and his grandparents traveled to Orlando where he was honored with a spirit award by Disney World and ESPN.

Bobby Bowden, coach of Huffman’s favorite team, sat just in front of the Allisons and their grandson, waiting to accept an award as coach of the year. Bowden heard the story of Huffman’s kidney donation when the teen-ager was honored.

``It was so exciting, the fact of what he had done,″ Bowden said. ``It captivated the crowd. It put things in perspective.″

Huffman was thrilled to actually talk to Bowden later. Bowden was also impressed.

``We get excited about football losses and wins and it’s really nothing compared to something like this,″ Bowden said.

The coach came back to Florida State, where he suggested that the school find a scholarship for Huffman as a student trainer.

Huffman said when he heard about the scholarship he was dumbfounded.

But he’s had to do a lot of talking since. He was interviewed by a German television crew Tuesday. He’s scheduled to appear on the NBC Today show on Thanksgiving Day.

On top of that, Huffman has an agent who has worked out a TV movie deal.

``When all this attention first happened, I was not for it,″ Allison said. ``But he said, `Grandma, think how much good we can do.′ Once again, he was right.″

The family has received letters from people who said they never thought about signing organ donor cards until they learned of what Huffman did.

Huffman said his life has turned out as he never imagined.

``I wake up every morning _ it’s kind of like looking at somebody else’s life,″ he said.

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