SAN DIEGO — If you’re looking for the ultimate underdog, Marlon Gardinera is your man: He knows all about beating the odds.

He coached his Scripps Ranch High School football team to their first state championship, a victory he wasn’t supposed to be alive to see.

What You Need To Know

    • SoFi Stadium is expected to expand to hold over 100,240 fans for the big game
    • There are over 106,000 people on the transplant waiting list in the U.S.
    • California has the longest waiting list in the country, at over 21,000 patients
  • Lifesharing saw a record 146 organ donors in 2021; thanks to these donors, 413 organs were transplanted in 2021

“In 2007, I was told I had a year or two to live because of a rare disease called amyloidosis and what it was doing to different parts of my body,” Gardinera said.

His body was attacking his otherwise healthy liver, but a liver transplant from a 26-year-old donor saved Gardinera’s life. He also was able to donate his liver to someone else to save their life.

Fourteen years later, he values life more than ever. Gardinera is a volunteer at Lifesharing, a nonprofit that coordinates organ and tissue donation.

“He’s probably just single-handedly alone reached thousands and thousands of students with his story, with his message,” said Anne State with Lifesharing.

State said Gardinera is both a transplant recipient and a living organ donor. Essentially, amyloidosis is an auto-immune disorder. Livers from amyloidosis patients can improve if they’re transplanted into someone who does not have that same trait. Typically, these livers go to patients with liver cancer or end-stage liver disease — patients who would die without a transplant.

State said the approaching Super Bowl is an opportunity to show just how large the transplant waiting list is in the U.S. SoFi Stadium’s Super Bowl capacity is about 100,240 fans, and the current transplant waiting list has over 106,000 people on it.

“It gets other people thinking about organ donation and what sort of legacy they might want to leave when they pass away,” State said.

For Gardinera, the Super Bowl is more than the game.

“So when you look at the stadium this time, don’t just watch the halftime show, don’t just watch the excitement on the field,” he said. “Know that for every person you see in that building, that is a real person somewhere all over the country waiting for an organ transplant.”

Because of his transplant, Gardinera has been able to coach both his sons during his time as head coach.

“It’s pretty cool having him here and having him be with me in the whole process especially winning state,” Gardinera’s son Noah said. “It’s pretty cool to be by his side doing it.”

Gardinera will probably need a kidney transplant eventually and said he will cherish every moment.

“For me, I’m glad I’m still here and alive, and I get to spend it with family and friends, and I get to enjoy that time,” he said.

According to Lifesharing, California has the longest waiting list in the country, at over 21,000 patients.

Gardinera said their state championship football team has been invited to the NFL Honors award show that airs before the Super Bowl.