Mike Markey had just been lifted onto the shoulders of the West Essex High wrestling team, after guiding the Knights to a state sectional title on Feb. 8. Two days later, Markey’s team won the school’s first-ever Group 3 state championship.
For Markey, the moment had to be surreal, for so many reasons, as he had battled back from some serious health afflictions for over a decade.
And while the 36-year-old couldn’t be happier, he also had his uncle, Carmen LoRe, the man who turned him on to wrestling as a youngster, and later as a coach, on his mind.
LoRe is the former Nutley High wrestling coach and successful businessman, who is currently battling health issues of his own, and requires a new lung. He’s currently on a transplant list. Carmen’s sister, the former Angie LoRe, is Mike’s mom.
“Carmen and I go back a long way, when it comes to wrestling,” said Markey. “I think about him every day. I remember when I first got into coaching, in 2009, Carmen said to me, ‘Michael, get them to buy in and get them in shape.’ It has been my mantra ever since, thanks to him.”
Mike Markey (right) and his uncle, Carmen LoRe. (Click on photo for larger image)
If anyone understands the miracle of a transplant, it’s Mike Markey. In 2002, while a student at the College of New Jersey, where he played football and wrestled, Mike received devastating news that he had Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), a rare liver disease. It was the same illness which eventually claimed the life of NFL great, Walter Payton, ironically a childhood idol of Markey’s.
PSC is caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the liver’s bile ducts, whose cause can be from a bacterial infection, virus, genetic predisposition or a problem with the immune system. Treatment for a cure is a transplant.
For three years, from 2002-2005, Markey would make regular trips to an infectious disease center, in Bloomfield, for doses of antibiotics. He also had a permanent I.V. In Sept. 2005, Mike received a liver transplant, a 10-hour procedure. But shortly after, he was back on the operating table after he began bleeding internally.
For the next three years, Markey’s health struggled. He needed tubes in his upper abdomen for drainage of the liver. He had kidney and renal failure, as well as sepsis, and lost a lot of weight. In December, 2006, he underwent bile duct surgery, which was unsuccessful.
Mike Markey during his days wrestling at Caldwell High School. (Click on photo for larger image)
While recovering, with tubes in his stomach, Mike worked hard to complete his college degree, at TCNJ and was trying to establish a career in education, and coaching. He got a break when he was hired at West Essex, as a Physical Education and Health teacher.
A graduate of nearby Caldwell High School, where he had a standout wrestling career, with over 100 wins and a state medal in 2000, Markey found solace as a volunteer assistant coach with the West Essex wrestling team. Eventually, he would be an assistant to Greg Ruggiero.
However, Mike’s health was still a problem. There was more internal bleeding and transfusions. Mike also had his gallbladder removed.
Michael DiPiano, Sr., here with his son, Frank, helped Markey see a new doctor, who helped him to improved health, in 2009. (Click on photo for larger image)
Enter LoRe, who introduced Markey to the legendary St. Benedict’s wrestling coach and administrator, Michael DiPiano Sr., in 2009. Eleven years earlier, DiPiano had a life-saving transplant, when he received a new kidney and pancreas. Last fall, DiPiano celebrated 20 years of good health. For the past nine years, DiPiano has hosted the Gift of Life Wrestling Tournament, a high school event, with the theme ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision.’
DiPiano intervened, noting that Markey didn’t look well. A few phone calls helped Markey visit Dr. Jean Emmond, at Columbia Presbyterian, in New York City. There, Markey underwent a cutting edge procedure, in the summer of 2009, in which 50% of his liver was removed. (Remember, the liver can regenerate). The procedure helped rid Mike of the invasive tubes, which had protruded from his abdomen for the better of four years following the original transplant, and his health began to improve noticeably.
“That was all Carmen,” said Markey last week. “I don’t know where I’d be if Carmen hadn’t introduced me to Mike DiPiano and get me to Dr. Emmond at Columbia Pres.”
Markey was able to begin working out with the West Essex wrestlers after the surgery, in his role as an assistant coach. He was on the West Essex coaching staff in 2011, when the Knights won a state sectional title and advanced to the Group 2 championship, where it lost a close match to Brearley High.
Eight years later, Markey’s health is good, although he admits he doesn’t wrestle as much with the team anymore. Since 2009, he’s undergone additional surgeries, including two abdominal reconstructions, the first in 2013 and a second two years ago.
“After my second abdominal reconstruction in 2017, I’m taking it a little easier now, when it comes to actually wrestling on the mat. I can work out for a few minutes, but then I leave it up to my coaching staff, to roll around more with the guys. I feel like I have plenty to contribute as the head coach.”
After nine years as an assistant coach, Markey would succeed Ruggiero as head coach, prior to the 2017-2018 season. In essence, the two switched positions, as Ruggiero is now a valued assistant.
What wrestling has meant to Markey for three decades has clearly helped him win the many health battles he’s faced for 17 years.
“No question about it,” he said. “The mental and physical preparation of being a wrestler really helped me. In wrestling, you never give up, and that goes for life, too. I started wrestling in the third grade, along with my best friend, Matt Dancy. I remember my first-ever match was at Nutley, in the third grade, and I got pinned in 36 seconds. And who was there to encourage me afterward? Carmen.
“I always tell my wrestlers what the sport did for me. You have to have faith. There is no end game in wrestling. It stays with you for a life time.”
Mike Markey’s life was saved by some marvelous medical professionals, as well as a loving uncle, who wanted the best for his nephew and a never-quit attitude.
Eleven years later, Mike is now hopeful he can be of help to Carmen.
“Organ donation awareness has saved so many lives, including mine,” said Mike. “And we’re hopeful that Carmen can get his transplant, soon. Whenever it got complicated in my life, he was always there. And now here I am, coaching a state championship team, with some great kids and a wonderful coaching staff. I spoke to Carmen when I got home from the state championship match (on Feb. 10). He was so happy.
“I love my uncle. I know he’s having some tough days, but we’re hopeful he’ll get the medical attention he needs soon.”