Source: Newark Advocate, Kurt Snyder, Sportswriter
Mike Craig's organs could not be donated in 2003, but his tissue could. That revelation opened doors Craig's widow, Gail, never could have imagined.
Mike Craig, a Newark native, died tragically in June 2003 while working on an air conditioner at the family's home in Johnstown.
"People just don't realize that it is so important, and it really helps you to focus on something positive," Gail Craig said.
Mike Vyrostek, a close friend of Craig's son, Chris, was faced with the possibility of never playing football again while the two were teammates at the College of Wooster in 2004 because of a series of knee injuries.
The tissue donation revived Vyrostek's career and now five years later has him teaching history and psychology and coaching football at Licking Heights High School. The American Association of Tissue Banks honored it as the story of the year, and Vyrostek has a spot reserved for him and a floragraph of Craig on the Donate Life float at the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1 in Pasadena, Calif.
"I didn't do much at all," said Vyrostek, who also was introduced to his wife by Chris Craig. Stephanie Vyrostek is an employee of Licking Memorial Hospital.
"I am just glad that he is being honored and his family is being honored. People are interested in the story, and if it gets a couple people to check that box about organs, that is the most important thing."
Vyrostek will be one of 24 riders on the float, and Chris Craig and his sister, Molly, also will be in Pasadena. Gail Craig will not be. She has a speaking engagement for Lifeline of Ohio at a pediatrics event at the end of the month.
The Craig family has been heavily involved in charitable causes since Mike's passing. Each year, the family awards the Mike Craig Memorial Scholarship to a graduating senior at Johnstown, where Mike was teaching and coaching when he passed, and a golf outing benefits several area schools, including Newark Catholic, Mike's alma mater.
The latest national numbers show more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for organ or tissue transplants. Among the donations from Craig have been corneas and heart valves.
Molly Craig, a student at Ohio Northern University and a Newark graduate, said she had no idea how far-reaching her father's donations could be.
"I can't even express all of the positive things that have come out of what happened," Molly Craig said. "Obviously it was a terrible loss. I miss my dad very much, but all of this stuff going on right now, it helps a lot. Everything they have done has helped an incredible amount.
"The eye is absolutely phenomenal to me --that somebody could have sight after getting my dad's cornea. I was blown away by that."
In this instance, she and her brother also will enjoy their vacation as they will be in the stands for the Rose Bowl between Ohio State and Oregon.
"We had our tickets before we even knew it was going to be the Bucks," she said. "That was the icing on the cake."
The annual bowl games usually have Vyrostek's attention on Jan. 1, but he said his mother typically has had the Tournament of Roses Parade on the TV in the background. He admitted this parade will hold a different meaning.
The Donate Life float will be fourth in this year's march.
"What gets you about these parades is how awesome the floats are," Vyrostek said. "I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be on one of these floats in Pasadena for one of these parades on national TV. It is going to be a pretty nerve-racking morning."