By Greg Gulas
Canfield High School athletic director Greg Cooper has always been one to lend a helping hand.
Now, it’s Cooper who needs help and time is of the essence as he awaits word on a liver transplant.
Exhibiting fatigue, loss of appetite and retention of fluid in his lower abdomen late last summer, Cooper noticed that he had developed a pot belly and exactly why was a reason for which he had no answer.
“Personal vanity aside, I’m a pretty active guy yet couldn’t figure out why I had developed this pot belly,” Cooper said. “I visited my family physician, Dr. John Gianetti, and nephrologist, Dr. Daniel Barton, and as we moved forward, a number of tests were performed.”
Cooper, a 1973 graduate of Boardman High School and 1977 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, went to University Hospital in Cleveland after Christmas to see liver experts.
“My weight had ballooned to 280 pounds and I think I gave them enough blood to float a destroyer,” Cooper said.
After enduring a myriad of tests at University Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic, Cooper finally was diagnosed with nonalcoholic end stage fatty liver disease-cirrhosis.
Cooper has a Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score of 14, of which six is healthy and 40 unhealthy.
With the support of his wife, Dayna, children, family and friends, he’s battling his toughest challenge.
“You go through all of the tests and they do test you in a variety of ways,” Cooper said. “If it all works out, then you become a candidate for a transplant.”
Cooper has been approved for a transplant and is on the waiting list at University Hospital, Cleveland Clinic and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“The good news is that maybe six weeks ago, I struggled energy-wise,” Cooper said. “The last few weeks have been really good. I still need my rest and sleep, but feel much better.”
Cooper was an naval aviator for 30 years with 5,700 flight hours.
“Greg is truly the kindest man that God put on the face of this Earth,” Dayna said. “We want to keep him around for a while.”
Highly visible at Canfield sporting events, Cooper takes pride in making sure that Canfield’s boys and girls sports run smoothly out of his office.
He credits longtime administrative assistant Nancy Vince and current administrative assistant Jackie Bower for making his job easy.
“Nancy and Jackie are the unsung heroes of the Canfield Athletic Department,” Cooper said. “If I disappeared, they could both pick up right where I left off and no beat would ever be missed.”
Vince called Cooper an individual who is truly one of a kind.
“Greg is the ultimate gentleman. True to his military training, he always puts others first,” Vince said. “The more time we spent together in the office, the more I started to sound like him — ‘Copy that’ and ‘Roger that’ became common terms I used every single day.
“First and foremost though is Greg’s love for his family,” Vince said. “He is a very proud Dad.”
The Coopers have four sons (Gregory, Michael, Scott and Brett) and a daughter (Ally).
Bower took over for Vince last year and the transition was very smooth, Cooper said.
“I am blessed to have been hired by and work alongside an amazing boss in Greg,” Bower said. “His dedication to his job and passion to be there for every student is beyond measure.
“I hope everyone reaches out to help him in every way possible, as he has to others. He is an amazing man with a heart of gold.”
A committee, led by Clare Neff, Canfield Mayor Dick Duffett and Ellen Bennett, has started the “Greg Cooper Liver Transplant Fund.” Information is available on the website www.longingforaliver.com.
A fund-raiser will take place on Aug. 25 from 5-9 p.m. at St. Michael’s Family Life Center, 340 Broad St. During Wednesday’s Fourth of July celebration on the Village Green, booths will be set up to sell $20 tickets to the fund-raiser. Pamphlets on liver donorship also will be available.
Tickets also will be sold at Saturday’s Till Open golf outing which honors Canfield’s John Tillery, Duffett’s classmate.
Matt Koenig, who recently stepped down as Cardinals baseball coach, called Cooper one of the most respected leaders in the Canfield School district.
“Greg is one of the most respected athletic director’s across the state and is an advocate of our student-athletes exposure in the media on the local, regional and statewide levels,” Koenig said. “He’s always accessible to our coaches and athletes and that is important.”
Boardman athletic director Denise Gorski said Cooper is always professional.
“I have always found Greg to be ... a man of great class and integrity and a person with tremendous dedication to the student-athletes, coaches and athletic programs at Canfield High School,” Gorski said. “I can remember my phone going off on a Friday or Saturday evening. It was about 10:30 p.m. and it was Greg working with scheduling events.
“I replied back that it’s the weekend, you need to take some time away from the job. That alone shows his extreme dedication to his job.
“Also, he is a man of great humility and never wanted anyone feeling sorry for him. That is why we all need to rally behind him and his family and help him receive the liver transplant that he so desperately needs.”
Cardinals head football coach Mike Pavlansky has worked with Cooper since his arrival as athletic director in 2006.
“Greg has been great to work for because he is so very supportive of our program and the coaches in it,” Pavlansky said. “Above all, he has always wanted to see all student-athletes mature during their time at CHS.”
Head boys basketball coach Todd Muckleroy has worked with Cooper for the past eight years.
“Upon arriving in Canfield, I knew this school and community would be special because Mr. Cooper and his family were the first ambassadors to welcome the Muckleroy family,” Muckleroy said. “This wonderful first impression was made possible by Greg and his wife, Dayna, and the bond between families would begin from there.
“When school began in the fall, I would see him in another light and quickly figured out how great a leader and mentor he would be to me as both a teacher and coach.
“Now that I have gotten to know him during my tenure at Canfield, his direction and guidance provides a great model for any young teacher and administrator to follow. He is a true inspiration to everyone that he comes in contact with.”
Cooper’s work ethic is also appreciated by media members and opposing athletic directors alike.
“Greg is an athletic director ‘who gets it.’” said Dana Balash, WFMJ Channey sports director. “He understands the role of the media and the importance of it.
“My staff is prepared when they go to Canfield for a sporting event, but even more prepared when they leave thanks to Greg and his stats, rosters and pertinent information,” Balash said. “He is one of the most dedicated athletic directors I’ve ever worked with in my career.”
Fundraiser tickets can be obtained by sending a check to: Longing For a Liver, P.O. Box 13, Canfield, OH 44406.