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Happy to be alive, Sacred Heart football coach Paul Gorham finally back home

Posted by Craig Larson, Globe Staff  July 19, 2012 07:28 PM

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Paul Gorham has been the head coach the past eight seasons at Sacred Heart in Connecticut, but is on medical leave to deal with a serious health issue. (Photo courtesy Sacred Heart University)

Merely standing up, for the first time since early February, has been "exhilarating," said Paul Gorham.

The last six months have been a living hell for Gorham, the head football coach the past eight seasons at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.

His world was turned completely upside down by a lung disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which has no known cause or cure.

But after his incredibly trying ordeal, the 51-year-old Gorham is finally back home, able to sleep in his own bed, for the first time in nearly six months. He had been airlifted to the Cleveland Clinic after experiencing a tremendous amount of difficulty breathing.

An All-Yankee Conference tight end at the University of New Hampshire in the 80s who developed into a highly-respected 18-year assistant at four college programs in New England, Gorham underwent a double lung transplant in early March.

A few weeks later, both of his legs were amputated a few inches below his knees because his lower extremities had been adversely affected by his condition. Gorham said that his 20-year-old son, Matt, a junior tight end at Brown, summed it up best, "Dad, you gave up two legs for your life."

Fitted with temporary prosthetics less than a week ago -- "I am 6-foot-3 again" -- Gorham arrived home in Cheshire, Conn., at 1:30 Wednesday morning, in an RV, courtesy of Phil Estes, the head coach at Brown, his former teammate at UNH, along with Bears assistants Mike Kelliher and Neil McGrath.

"[Estes, McGrath, and Kelliher] flew out there, rented an RV, and then had to stop every hour, on the eight-hour drive because of [potential] blood clot issues," said Gorham's sister, Kathy, a longtime Scituate resident. Their normal foursome, said Paul, "but no golf."

"Phil Estes has been unbelievable," added Gorham's sister, relating that after Gorham's wife, Noreen, returned to work Memorial Day weekend after spending 40-plus straight days in Cleveland, Estes mapped out a calendar so that someone, a friend, a coaching colleague, or family member, was at the clinic, by his side daily.

Throughout his stay at the clinic, Gorham never lost his spirit.

"What was the alternative," he asked in a phone conversation Friday afternoon. In the hospital, there were a lot of folks worse off than him. His sister calls his recovery "a modern day miracle."

Gorham is thankful to be back in Connecticut, and settling into somewhat of a routine.

The road ahead will not be easy, "but I can not look backward," he said, noting that he is much more relaxed since his life-changing event. He is slowly, but surely, getting used to his new feet, and regaining his wind.

He has been on medical leave from the university, with Mark Nofri serving as acting head coach, but Gorham plans to go into the office Monday for a few hours.

"I want to coach, but I don't know the likelihood," he said. "I will be involved, but at what level, my health will dictate that."

Gorham has an entire sideline of overwhelming support, from Cheshire to his hometown of Portland, Maine, along with hundreds from the coaching community:

Oregon coach Chip Kelly, his former colleague at UNH, has sent texts (Gorham was on the Ducks' sideline with his son at the Rose Bowl).

South Portland High teammate Brett Brown, a San Antonio Spurs assistant who will direct the Australian men's team in London at the Summer Olympics next week, has checked in, along with Gorham's colleagues in the Northeast Conference.

"It has been amazing," he said.

On Thursday night, Aug. 2, Sacred Heart will host a Welcome Home Paul Gorham Tribute fundraiser for his medical hardship. A donation of $100 is requested. Hundreds are expected to attend.

For more information, go to paulgorham.org.

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