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As a former running back for the Montana Grizzlies, Rob Laird has taken his hits.

One in particular rocked his kidneys back in the late 1980s.

But that hit would be nothing compared to what Type 1 diabetes would do to them.

"I've always known this time would come," said Laird, whose kidneys failed him after a nearly 30-year battle with juvenile-onset diabetes. "I just didn't think it would come this early."

In late 2008, the lifelong athlete was told his kidneys no longer worked.

The news was difficult enough, made even more so by getting fired from a waste-management company recently, which meant the loss of the health insurance he'd had for 17 years.

With a wife and adopted daughter to take care of, Laird, a UM running back from 1985-89, is wondering how to pay the bills, which include a $1,200 monthly payment to COBRA, federally mandated but expensive "bridge" insurance.

Laird has hired Missoula attorney Milt Datsopoulos to fight the employer and the union they both say let Laird down.

"We think," said Datsopoulos, "that it's wrongful termination."

Until that battle unfolds, hundreds of people have come to the aid of Laird, his wife Leslie and their 4-year-old daughter.

His friends have organized two auctions, one online and one live, to raise money for the Laird family's medical expenses.

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Laird is hoping to get a pancreas and kidney transplant, and has been on a waiting list since he was diagnosed with renal failure. He undergoes 20 hours of dialysis every week to keep him alive. Every week, he draws closer to a phone call that will tell him the news his family wants to hear: A kidney and pancreas are waiting.

"I'm close," said Laird, "but I'm not quite at the top of the list."

Hundreds of people have come forward to offer their money, their help, their prayers and their willingness to donate their own kidneys to Laird.

But Laird's best shot at getting a good kidney and good pancreas is to get them both in one operation, he said.

"I've had probably 20 offers" for just a kidney, he said. "For someone to offer that is above and beyond anything I could hope for."

When the call comes, Laird will get a pancreas and kidney transplant

he knows will usher him into the old age we all deserve.

Until then, he's on another mission: Getting kids and adults to understand that they have to take good care of themselves while living with diabetes.

"Exercise, exercise, exercise," said the man who admits "I look better than I should because my wife has been feeding me the right foods."

"I don't know where I'd be without exercise."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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