The life of a football coach is much more than X's and O's, and Waukesha West coach Steve Rux knows this very well.
"To have one of our children have a serious health condition is the most terrifying thing imaginable for (wife) Coleen and I," said Rux, whose 2 ½-year-old daughter, Calista, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when she was two months old.
The Rux family saw its world unexpectedly turn upside down when Coleen took her daughter in for what she thought was a routine check-up. Suddenly, Rux found himself at Children's Hospital with his daughter clinging to a 50-50 chance of survival.
Cardiomyopathy causes the heart to weaken and enlarge to the point where it cannot pump blood efficiently. Calista will eventually outgrow the functioning capacity of her heart if she does not receive a transplant.
Doctors believe that Calista developed cardiomyopathy as a result of a viral attack on her heart due to myocarditis, an uncommon disorder where a viral, bacterial or fungal infection reaches the heart.
After her initial diagnosis, Calista began medication treatments for her condition and stayed relatively healthy for a time. But last Christmas, Calista was rushed to the hospital after she inexplicably lost consciousness. It was then that doctors recommended listing her for a heart transplant, and Rux began pondering whether or not he should continue pursuing his passion of coaching football.
"Coleen said she would stay home for the next two years and just find another job at some point," Rux said. "I said I would step away from coaching because it takes so much time."
Rux began making plans to relinquish command of the Wolverines, but as the months passed and he and his family waited for news of a donor, he began to reconsider.
"It is a rollercoaster ride for all of us," he said. "You spend the weekend just watching the pager. After about two months you realize this might not happen right away so we need to continue to live our lives."
Rux said he anticipated his daughter would receive the transplant sometime within two months of listing her as a recipient. But almost 10 months later, Calista still has not received her transplant from a nationwide list of donors. The Rux family remains ready at a moment's notice.
"It is something that could happen anytime," said Rux. "I could be calling timeout on the sideline against Mukwonago, or in class, or in the middle of the night when I get the call."
Ultimately, Rux decided to continue coaching because of the trust and support he has from his coaching staff, the players and the school administration at Waukesha West.
"If I didn't have all of those things, there is no way I could do it," he said.
Rux has juggled the demands of being the father of an ailing daughter with being a husband, teacher and coach of a successful football program for the past few seasons, but as the pressure to get a transplant mounts, he has had to rely more and more on the support of his assistant coaches and the Waukesha West community.
His team wears a pink heart on the back of its football helmets to honor Calista's ongoing struggle, and one of his assistant coaches made special hats with hearts on them as a show of support. The whole experience has given Rux a new appreciation for life.
"I think I am enjoying (coaching and teaching) more than I ever have because I think it does keep you in the moment," he said. "I'm trying to do the same things I always did, but I have a whole new perspective. Who knows, maybe I am a better coach because I recognize that there are more important things than football."
The Wolverines are off to a good start this season, and many consider them among the best teams in the area, but the team faces the possibility of losing its coach at any time.
"If I have to go, I have to go," said Rux. "That is it."
According to the veteran coach, the backbone of this team is the players, who he says have done everything they can to support him.
But at the end of the day, "the person that brings us out of this fear most is Calista with her sweet and silly personality. We thank God every day that we were able to bring her home."
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