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Kidney failure can't stop coach of year Biller



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JACKIE BILLER (left) and husband Glenn pose Friday night in front of their Christmas tree. On Feb. 7, Jackie will donate a kidney to Glenn, who suffers from a deadly genetic kidney disease.

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The Badger girls swimmers toilet papered Biller's house back in November after their first sectional title in school history. Biller fought back with a bag of flour, so the girls doused his driveway with much more flour. (click for larger version)
December 31, 2012 | 12:58 PM
Through sickness and in health.

Many married couples take this simple, yet meaningful vow for granted or don't think twice when they recite it.

But not Glenn and Jackie Biller. Not anymore.

After years of living with polycystic kidney disease, a possibly deadly genetic disorder that causes severe pain and fatigue, Glenn, 42, received an early Christmas present Dec. 21.

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When his kidney efficiency numbers dropped to 14 percent (a normal person is 100 percent), Glenn couldn't put it off any longer — he needed a kidney transplant. Eight friends didn't match up due to high blood pressure, heart problems or incompatible blood types.

However, Jackie's universal O-positive blood type was a perfect match. Four days before Christmas, Jackie and Glenn got the green light for a Feb. 7 kidney transplant surgery.

According to Jackie, donating her kidney to her soul mate was a no-brainer. "He's the one who makes the world rock here," Jackie said Friday about Glenn's impact on their household, which includes sons Jackson, 11, and Carson, 9. "He's the love of my life. There are miracles in this world. Our oldest son has it, too, so I figure I'd be too old when he would need a transplant."

Glenn, a Lake Geneva resident, broke down in tears Friday when asked if he was scared. He knew this day was coming. His mother passed away at age 60 due to the same disease. She lived 11 years after a successful transplant. Glenn's condition is deteriorating.

A cyst in his kidney burst back in November the day of the Badger swimming awards banquet. His kidney's efficiency was at 20 percent back in February, but it plummeted to 14 after this incident.

Despite coaching through pain and fatigue all season, the Badger boys and girls swim coach was recently honored as the 2012 Lake Geneva Regional News Coach of the Year. While Sports serves as a refreshing break from his health concerns, Glenn's kidney is in dire straits.

"I've held it off for a long time, but you can't fight your genes," Glenn said. "I've been running from this all my life, but I never thought I'd get to the point where it's actually going to happen. I'm scared to be on drugs. It wreaks havoc on the body. I don't think about myself, but I worry about my wife and kids. We'll get through it."

Glenn said he takes heavy steroids every day to suppress the pain and sometimes needs to sit down and drink water during practice. He said his kidneys are the size of footballs; three times bigger than normal.

The coach, who in the fall led the girls swim team to its first conference title in 10 years and its first sectional championship in school history, joked that growing up he made sure to check all of his ex-girlfriend's blood types.

Jackie, who Glenn met at his first job out of college, the Abbey Resort in Fontana, back in the mid-90s, connected with him instantly. The two have been inseparable since.

"I'm lucky to have her," Glenn said. "We're life partners. She will be in the hospital four days. My wife's amazing, and I'd do the same for her."

Glenn, a self-employed personal trainer who was an all-American swimmer at Miami of Ohio University, made it his life's mission to stay healthy because of his inevitable transplant.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, Polycystic kidney disease is one of the most common life-threatening genetic diseases, affecting an estimated 12.5 million people worldwide.

Six months ago, Glenn was informed Jackie was a match, but it wasn't until Dec. 21 the couple was given the green light for surgery. The human body only needs one kidney to function, however, the deficient kidneys remain in the body after the surgery.

Biller said the impending procedure is the best option, but there is a high risk of rejection of the new kidney. Glenn and Jackie have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from family and friends. Due to the surgery, both will have to miss at least a month of work.

"Everyone's offered to help," he said. "The church, neighbors and the swimming community. We have been planning on how to get through this."

"We have a huge support group," Jackie said. "We will need more help than normal."

Glenn hopes to get back to swimming and take it easy. He didn't participate in Tuesday's Polar Plunge, a tradition he's enjoyed the past 15 years. A positive man with a million-dollar smile, his outward appearance covers his inner concerns of a procedure that will change his life.

"My biggest concern is if it doesn't work," Jackie said. "I want him to feel better."

"My immune system will be very weak for a while," Glenn said. "I can't get sick. I have to be really careful. I have learned to live every day."

Swimming triumphs

Starting in the winter and early spring of 2012, Glenn helped the Badger boys send six athletes to state.

"They worked really hard," Glenn said. "You can't keep pounding the kids into the ground if they screw up. You must be flexible and read moods."

Then, in the fall, Glenn inherited a deep talent pool with the girls squad.

Accomplishments included the first conference title since 2002 and the school's first-ever sectional title at the Kenosha Tremper Sectional. Glenn knew the team had the potential to be successful.

"The cohesiveness was very good, and we stayed away from drama," he said. "We were all on the same page. It was the most stressful season I've ever had. It was on me to get them to where they needed to go."

Glenn credited assistant coach Ann Clausen with "grooming" the new girls and familiarizing them to the Badger system.

"We still have depth," Glenn said. "I expect great things next year. A lot will depend on our youth and the YMCA swim team and Frank Scott's coaching."

Fast forward to the current winter season. A boys team consisting of mostly first-time swimmers, Glenn is back to the basics — turns, starts and strokes.

"Ninety-five percent of my team has only swam for me," Glenn said. "We hope to get some excitement going. Football, basketball and baseball are priorities for young men around here. There hasn't really been a bump in men's swimming. A lot of kids think it's a fun idea, but then they realize it's incredibly hard work." Badger, who is 1-1 in the SLC duals and took third at the conference relays, returns to action Jan. 8 at home against Whitewater.

An impressive pedigree

It can't be easy to go from being the most athletic, dominant swimmer in the pool to a man who needs to rely on others for his well-being. But Glenn faces that predicament. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Glenn grew up where middle schools had their own swim teams.

"Every school had a pool," he said. "Our high school was renowned for swimming."

Glenn won state in the 50 freestyle his senior year with a time of 21.02 seconds, a time he said would still hold up today. He earned a full scholarship to Division 1 Miami of Ohio University, where he was part of a school record time in the 400 freestyle relay. He was named an All-American in 1992.

An exercise science major with nutrition minor, Biller's first job was as a personal trainer at the Abbey.

He moved to Hoffman Estates, Ill., to work in corporate fitness before working at the Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in 1995.

In 1996, he married Jackie while working as activities director at the Lake Geneva YMCA. He took over the organization's swim team and started his own personal training business.

Over the last decade, he has helped lead Badger to team and individual state success.

"I'm humbled to be coach of the year," he said. "We have amazing coaches at Badger. I'm always looking for better ways to do it. I try to do a good job of getting kids mentally ready to compete."

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