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Murder victim donates heart to former Utah football player

May 3, 2019

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Darcie Housley used to called her son “Mr. Friendly” because he was always making friends, no matter where he went.

She also called him “Peanut,” a moniker that stuck with friends and family.

Brian didn’t like the name much as a kid, even asking his mom to stop calling him that. As he got older, the name would grow on him. Darcie said many of his friends would refer to him by the nickname.

Recently, she was gifted a necklace with a small peanut at the end. It’s her way of taking Brian with her no matter where she goes.

“He was our little peanut,” Darcie said.

Brian Sean Housley was shot in the early morning hours of Nov. 27, 2017. Police were called to an Ogden home at the 900 block of 16th Street at about 2:37 a.m. and found Brian with a gunshot wound to his head.

Darcie and her husband, Randy, awoke around 4:30 a.m. that morning to the phone ringing. A police officer said they needed to come to the hospital, and that Brian was in an accident. Randy asked what had happened, and he was told it was a shooting.

She thought Brian was hit in his leg or in his arm, but the wound would turn out to be much worse.

“It blew our minds, we thought ‘are you kidding me?’” Darcie said. “It was shocking. Not in a million years did I think he was shot where he was shot.”

Brian died on Nov. 30, 2017, just three days later. No arrests have been made in connection with his murder.

“I just don’t want these people to get away with it,” she said.

Before Brian passed, doctors began prepping his body for organ donation. Darcie said she vividly remembers saying goodbye to Brian before taking him off life support and doctors began harvesting organs for transplants.

“He chose to be a donor, and I was proud that he chose that,” Darcie said. “That just the kind of boy he was, always, like I said, Mr. Friendly.”

Miles away in Salt Lake City, a man lay in a hospital bed, his heart lightly beating. Where Brian’s life was ending, Ray Groth’s life was about to get a new start.

‘Never Give Up’

Ray had been in a Salt Lake City Hospital for weeks, his heart slowly dying.

Ray — who was 70 at the time — had always lived an active lifestyle. He moved from Idaho Falls to attend the University of Utah to play football. He moved around positions, but started at quarterback for his last two seasons. He would later be drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 14th round of the 1970 NFL Draft, just a few rounds after the Cardinals took Mike Holmgren, a future Super Bowl-winning coach.

Ray and his wife, Diedra, moved to the Salt Lake area in the ’80s after coaching college football in the northwest. Ray began teaching high school physical education and coaching football at the high school level. In the years since he regularly would compete in cross country skiing. He took up cycling after his knees started to give out.

But in 2017, he started to notice a change while out skiing. “Something just wasn’t quite right,” Ray said.

He thought maybe his vest was on too tight, or his skis needed to be waxed.

He started to slow down more and more, and soon found he couldn’t keep up with his wife. Two days after, he had a cross country ski race.

“It was horrible,” Ray said. “I damn near collapsed on the course. I made it but I realized something was the matter.”

His doctor told him he had cardiac amyloidosis, a condition that causes a plaque buildup in the heart that makes it difficult for the heart to pump. With Ray Groth’s diagnosis, his doctor immediately put him on the list for a heart transplant.

“Because of my age, that was going to be problematic,” he said. “Normally they don’t want to give heart transplants to people over 65.”

Ray was in the hospital for five weeks, tubes and wires protruding out of his body. But one night, Nov. 30, his doctor asked everyone in the room to leave other than Ray and Diedra. The doctor said he might have found a new heart for Ray.

The heart was from a young man in Ogden, the doctor said.

Several tests and eight hours later, Ray was on an operating table. After the surgery, he initially felt great, but a small cough turned into a number of medical speed bumps.

Through it all, Ray has kept his spirits up. In the kitchen of their Cottonwood Heights home, sits a small statue of a frog in a crane’s mouth, the frog’s hands wrapped tightly around the bird’s neck. At the base of the statue, an inscription reads “Never Ever Give Up.” It’s a slogan he has kept in mind for decades, and it’s something he has never done.

Months after the transplant, the number of his medical complications were declining. Ray sent a letter to the Housley family, unaware of what lead to his new heart and curious for answers.

‘Well why wouldn’t I do that?’

Darcie recalled when her son was filling out paperwork for his driver’s license, and he asked what being a donor was about. She explained that if he was in an accident and nothing else could be done for him, those organs left would be donated to others in need.

“He said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t I do that?’” she said with a laugh.

She also remembered sitting in the hospital room with Brian, his imminent death still settling into her mind. In the many hours in the hospital, Darcie would regularly listen to Brian’s heart.

Doctors told her that they would be able to use her son’s liver, pancreas and kidneys for donations, in addition to his heart. Body parts were also donated for testicular cancer research, Darcie said.

One day the Housleys received a letter. It was from Ray, asking if they would like to meet him.

Darcie’s reaction was simple. “Well yeah,” she said with a laugh. “I mean why not?”

Ray and Diedra drove to the Housley’s North Ogden home to meet for the first time. After talking for a few hours, the two couples went to Brian’s gravesite at the Ben Lomond Cemetery.

“It was very emotional, and he just hugged me,” Darcie said.

It’s been nearly a year and a half since Brian’s death, but for the Housley family, the wounds are still fresh.

“I think about this every day of my life,” she said. “It’s never going to go away, I know that. People tell me to move on, but I can’t move on.”

Darcie said she takes comfort in the fact that Brian’s heart is still beating. In fact, she hears it on a regular basis. During that first meeting between the Housleys and the Groths, Ray gifted Darcie with a stuffed animal equipped with a button that if pressed, will play a recording of Brian’s heart.

Ray is back to cross country skiing, even though Brian was a snowboarder. Recently he told Darcie that he was taking Brian up for his first cross country ski race.

“She said ‘Well, he may not like it at first, but I’m sure he’ll get used to it,’” Ray said. “And he did. He’s getting better, he’s getting pretty tough.”

Darcie recently received a letter from another man who received Brian’s kidney and pancreas. She hopes to meet him soon. She just wishes Brian could be around to see it.

“He would be amazed, he would be thrilled,” she said. “He would be so happy that he was able to help people. It’s just the way he was.”

If he could see all the good he’s done, it would be Mr. Friendly back doing what he did so often while he was alive.

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Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net