From the inspirational legacy of a beloved baby boy to prolific blood donations of a grandfather, the family members of Tulsa native and broadcaster Dari Nowkhah personify Oklahoma with grace and generosity.
Nowkhah – a familiar face on ESPN and voice on ESPN Radio with coverage of college football and basketball – and his wife, Jenn, founded the nonprofit Hayden’s Hope in memory of their infant son, who died of heart complications.
“Hayden was born healthy on Aug. 12, 2011, but within his first days of life, contracted a virus that eventually impacted his heart,” the University of Oklahoma alumnus says. “He was placed on the heart transplant list, but … passed away Sept. 20, 2011. We wanted to make sure his incredible spirit and toughness would never be forgotten and knew that there was a way he could help others.
“Within days of his passing, we contacted the Children’s Organ Transplant Association and agreed to work hand-in-hand with them in helping families in these difficult situations.”
Hayden’s Hope has raised nearly $300,000 and assisted roughly 50 families with transplant-related costs.
“Hopefully, their focus is placed more on the child who needs them than on the immense financial strain that the hospitalization and medical needs have created,” he says. “We have become lifelong friends with some of these families, and it has allowed Hayden’s incredible legacy to shine brighter as these families learn of the inspiration behind Hayden’s Hope.”
Although he reports on sports, Nowkhah says he didn’t play them while attending Union High. This makes his induction into the school’s athletics hall of fame (for contributions to sports) even more of a personal honor – and that Oklahoma spirit is something he thinks of when he’s asked, “So, where are you from?”
“I have lived the last 15 years on the East Coast, in Connecticut and North Carolina, and discovered there aren’t many people from Oklahoma out there,” he says. “There aren’t many people who know anybody else from Oklahoma. I take a great pride in being from Tulsa and Oklahoma, and try to represent the city and state [by] being kind, hardworking and appreciative of what we have as a family. Since so many people on the East Coast don’t have much exposure to or experience in Oklahoma, I often explain the great things the state and the city of Tulsa offer.
“With the University of Oklahoma’s football success, people ask, ‘Why would these players want to go to Oklahoma for college? What’s there?’ I find myself explaining that while the nation doesn’t necessarily look at … Oklahoma as a top 10 destination, great values and quality of life are what Oklahoma and Tulsa are about.”
Giving back to society is a family tradition. Nowkhah’s grandfather, Darwin Eaton, gave a staggering lifetime total blood donation of 42 gallons – which is believed to be the most in the history of the American Red Cross.
“The donation center at 11th Street and U.S. 169 is named for him,” Nowkhah says. “He was … an incredibly generous man whose giving nature struck all of us. He is a reason we find it important to give and to help others, with blood donation as well as pediatric organ donation with Hayden’s Hope.”