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PROVO — You’ve seen it as you drive on I-15 in Utah County.
It’s a bright, yellow billboard, sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho, that regularly features coaches from BYU and the University of Utah, united in their call for organ donors.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and his staff have been on recent versions of the billboard, as have Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and former coaches like Bronco Mendenhall, LaVell Edwards and Ron McBride, among others.
But a new local celebrity will adorn the daily drive of Utah County commuters — Elsie Mahe, the 3-year-old daughter of BYU running backs coach Reno Mahe, who captured the hearts of the state and nation after a tragic home accident last November.
The Kidney Foundation unveiled a new billboard Thursday, adorned with little Elsie’s picture and the words “Because Elsie donated, 5 lives are saved.” It’s a perfect tribute to a daughter taken far too soon, and the parents whose unselfish sacrifice inspired hundreds or thousands more.
“This is such a beautiful tribute to our Elsie,” said Sunny Mahe, Elsie’s mother and a former BYU volleyball star. “We are so lucky to live in a time of medical miracles such as organ transplantation. It has been such an honor to have had a part in these lifesaving miracles. We are so touched that Elsie’s influence will live on, not just through the recipients of the organs she donated, but perhaps she will cause others to consider doing the same.
“What a wonderful legacy she leaves of life and hope.”
Reno Mahe surprised his wife and family with the unveiling Thursday afternoon, bringing the family to tears and smiles of love, as captured by BYU’s videographers.
“When they called me about it, it was a fun deal that my kids would say ‘Daddy’s up there’ every time we drove by it,” Reno said. “They called and asked if they could honor my daughter and our decision to donate her organs, and I thought it would be a great tribute to her.
“I thought it would be fun to surprise her with it. I knew she would love it.”
The billboard was unveiled publicly immediately following the four-month anniversary of Elsie’s accident, something Sunny took notice to point out.
“It’s right around now that people start forgetting and going back to their regular lives, which is natural and normal,” Sunny said. “But not for me; it’s wonderful for me to have this.”
The billboard is also inscribed by the number 1-800-TOW-KARS and website TOWKARS.ORG that promotes organ donation and awareness.
“While Elsie’s passing was heartbreaking to her family and to all of us, wonderful miracles resulted from the kindness of the Mahe family to give the gift of life to others,” Kidney Foundation CEO Deen Vetterli told Dick Harmon of the Deseret News. “Today there are more than 120,000 people in the United States waiting for life-saving transplants. Twenty-two of those on waiting lists die each day as the need for organs always exceeds the supply.
“We extend heartfelt thanks to the Mahe family for allowing us to honor Elsie through their inspirational story of giving life to others.”