CARROLLTON, Ga. — A gymnastics coach in Carrollton is celebrating a birthday, even though March 15 is not the day he was born. Instead, it the anniversary of a life-changing gift.
Like clockwork, families fill the East Carrollton Recreation Center every day where Dante Sipp works, scheduling life around a sport they all love.
“These are my kids," Sipp told 11Alive. He may spend every day doing the same thing, but for him, no day is routine.
“I really do look at every day as a second chance.” Sipp said. "Before, I was really struggling to keep up. It was a constant challenge for me.”
Four years ago, the team and the other coaches watched and worried as Sipp’s health was failing. He was desperate for a new kidney.
“When I was on dialysis, I was counting the days,” he explained.
Parents and friends at the gym put out a call for donors and sent emails to 11Alive news.
Soon after our Brave Conquers Fear story on Sipp aired, a stranger was able to fill his need in an amazing way.
Lauren Larrison, a mom of three who lives in Athens, heard Sipp’s story and was compelled to get tested to see if she could be his donor. She emailed a surprise video to him after finding out she was a perfect match.
Abigail Pike, one of Sipp's athletes who was in middle school at the time, saw the amazing moment.
“I was in in the office when he got the gift video," she remembered. “I was so happy he was going to be okay, still be our coach, and have a new start at life.”
The next surprise also came at the Rec Center when he met Larrison for the first time in person. She printed special Brave Conquers Fear t-shirts that read “A match made in heaven.”
Their first hug felt more like a family reunion.
The next embrace would come 29 days later on transplant day at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta.
“I remember it being a really good day,” Sipp said back in 2019. “It’s my new birthday.”
Sipp and Larrison invited 11Alive to be in the operating room as they had side-by-side surgeries. The transplant team removed one of Larrison’s kidneys then quickly carried it to the neighboring operating room. A gift of life to Sipp.
"I remember watching the surgeon finish the last stitch and seeing the kidney come to life. It felt like I was watching a miracle happen right before my eyes,” 11Alive's Cheryl Preheim said.
In the four years since, Sipp and Larrison have stayed connected, talking regularly.
Following his transplant, Sipp has focused on embracing each day.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff that I’m really proud of and stuff I never thought I’d do, I’ve gone rock climbing. I became a head coach, I graduated college, I’ve done a lot of stuff I have no regrets about,” Sip said.
He also has a new tattoo, the Brave Conquers Fear logo that Cheryl Preheim’s son, Joshua, drew before his own open-heart surgery. The 6-year-old's drawing is now inked on Sipp's forearm with a transplant date under it.
Sipp is now passing-on the kindness and investment he’s received to the kids he mentors and coaches.
“That’s all I want to do," he told 11Alive said. “Take every day and just live it and love it.”