A new chance

A Seahawks fan displays his gratitude -- wearing Ravens purple for the Maryland man who gave him a new heart

From one great fan to another, a gift of life

December 24, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

SEATTLE — SEATTLE-- --The heart of Ravens fan Michael Watts lives in Jeff Hansen, a longtime fan of the Seattle Seahawks.

Hansen, 32, was at Qwest Field yesterday wearing a Steve McNair jersey and Ravens cap to honor the memory of Watts, whose heart Hansen received at a Seattle-area hospital a few hours after Watts died.

Watts, 25, was an Air Force staff sergeant from Eldersburg who died while riding in a military vehicle in September 2006. He was returning home to Great Falls, Mont., to await the birth of his second daughter. A day later, Watts' wife, Rachel, delivered in the same hospital where her husband died from his injuries.

"If you knew my son, you would know he was a kind and gentle soul," Debbie Watts of Eldersburg said yesterday. Hansen "seems to be a perfect match."

In Seattle, Hansen stood out in the Ravens jersey. Hansen said he didn't see any Ravens fans and got an earful from Seahawks fans who didn't know his story. Usually, the Ravens have a large troop of fans at away games, but the cross-country destination, dismal season and Christmas holiday reduced their number.

"I had my jacket and hood on so nobody could see it, but when I took all that stuff off, the boos started coming down like rain on me," Hansen said.

Debbie Watts, along with her husband, Vernon Sr., have been Ravens season ticket holders for three years. She said her son, who played football at Liberty High School in Eldersburg before graduating in 2000, had something else in common with Hansen.

"He was a die-hard fan," she recalled yesterday. "Ray Lewis was his favorite player. He would have all the collectibles. When he moved away, my husband and I would call him from the games and give him the details."

Watts spent part of his childhood in Yakima, Wash., rooting for the Seahawks. His allegiance changed when his family moved to Eldersburg in 1994, and Watts became a Ravens fan.

Hansen, a former mortgage broker from Seattle, was diagnosed in 2004 with congestive heart failure brought on by an enlarged heart. He wrote Watts' family a five-page e-mail expressing his gratitude last August.

"It was very hard," Hansen said yesterday. "I wanted them to know how my life was before the transplant and how it is now. I wanted to make sure I was healthy and I accepted the heart before I contacted them. They wrote back, saying they were happy the heart went to a good person. It was pretty emotional."

Then came the idea to wear a Ravens jersey.

"About a week and a half ago, I met with representatives from the Living Legacy Foundation, who I've been working with to raise money and awareness for organ donors," Hansen said. "They asked me when I was going to be talking with the donor's family."

Hansen had planned to call Watts' parents to wish them a merry Christmas and good luck against the Seahawks.

"One thing led to another, and we decided it would be a great idea for me to wear Ravens gear," Hansen said. "It was kind of a mutual decision. At first I was a little reluctant because I'm such a huge Seahawks fan. But I decided it was for a great cause, and I thought it was a great way to honor my donor."

The Seattle-based Living Legacy Foundation purchased the McNair jersey for Hansen, who bought the cap in case the jersey didn't get to him in time. Hansen, whose family has had season tickets since the team arrived in 1976, was a little uncomfortable wearing strange colors.

"To be honest with you, I have Seahawks stuff on under all of my clothes," Hansen said. "It will be a mixed bag as far as who I'll be rooting for. I'll probably be cheering for the Seahawks on their touchdowns and their good plays, but I'll also be pulling for the Ravens."

Hansen plans to hold a fundraiser in September in Watts' honor. He is back to playing basketball once a week and recently was certified to scuba dive.

Watts' family was touched by Hansen's gesture.

"It's a big honor," Vernon Watts Jr. said of Hansen honoring his brother's memory. "For him to be going to these measures to bring awareness to organ donation is unbelievable. He's doing wonderful things."

don.markus@baltsun.com

Recycling

Howard County recycles 42 percent of its trash. It sent 111,231 tons of residential trash to Virginia last fiscal year.

Anne Arundel County recycles 46 percent of its trash. It sent 146,359 tons of residential trash to Virginia last fiscal year.

[Source: County and state records]

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