Ben Franklin's Jay Luce remaining positive through health battles

Jan. 16—Jay Luce has always put his life in God's hands.

He did so growing up in southern California, where he played sports and became a member of his local church. He continued to do so even more when he enlisted in the Army at 18 and was sent to fight in the Gulf War with the 82nd Airborne. Luce was never afraid of death. He felt he was called upon to serve.

Even as life handed him more challenges, he never blinked an eye or felt bad for himself.

At 31 he received his first kidney transplant. His aunt was a match and surprised him with the results. At the time he had been on dialysis for years after the war. By the time he moved to Phoenix in 2019, he was in Stage 4 renal failure.

His kidney was failing yet again. But his mindset never changed.

"This kidney thing isn't going to make or break me or anything like that," Luce said. "God, he knows what he's doing. If I get a kidney, I think you'll see a better version. I want to be for the kids and for myself, too."

Luce has been on dialysis for 3 years now. During that time, he has coached basketball at American Leadership Academy — Ironwood in Queen Creek. Two years ago, he made the move to Benjamin Franklin, where he coaches flag football and girls' basketball.

Dialysis has taken a toll on him. He has two access points in his forearm where he receives treatments once a week at a local kidney hospital down the road from his Queen Creek home. He has missed only one game due to his condition. But it was because he was out of town for more tests.

Luce's health complications in recent years have stemmed beyond his kidneys.

In 2020 he contracted COVID-19, which resulted in lengthy hospital stay. He was never put on a ventilator, but believes he was given remdesivir, which he thinks killed his kidney. He recalls one night where he felt it would be his last. He didn't panic or succumb to any emotion. He simply prayed and accepted whatever fate God had planned for him.

Then, the phone rang. His son was on the other line with his newborn son. It was at that moment he truly felt it would be his last night on earth.

"It was fitting. Out with the old, in with the new, I was cool with that," Luce said. "I went to bed and then I woke up the next morning. I was like, 'OK, I'm alive. I have to get up. I have to get moving.'"

Luce took his survival as a sign from God that he had more left in the tank. He began to push himself in physical therapy, walking further every day to ensure his release.

Eventually, he was cleared to go to a rehab center and then to his home, where he continued therapy. He excelled in that, too.

He found strength in family visitors. He was also visited by then-ALA Ironwood head football coach Travis Epperson and the football program. That gave him even more motivation.

"It gave me juice," Luce said. "I had a purpose I just had to keep fighting, keep going."

Luce is currently awaiting the results of a test his cousin conducted to see if she is a match to be his donor. If she is, his second kidney transplant would take place in April or May.

He isn't getting too excited or doubting the possibility of his cousin being a match. He knows God has a plan.

But he admits it's hard not to think about being able to run around with his girls at Ben Franklin again. He was always the coach that wanted to show how to do a specific drill rather than just explain it. But he's not able to at this moment. The girls, however, understand and are supportive of him. That, he says, helps him get through some of the toughest days.

"It's a shot of adrenaline," Luce said. "I believe it's something God has given me that isn't hard. If you love what you're doing, it isn't hard. I can go through my challenges with the kids and it's great."

Luce finds strength in his faith and being there for others. He finds strength in ensuring the medical personnel that give him treatments every week know they are appreciated.

When he goes in, he tries to lighten the mood with playful banter and casual conversations. Just as much as he doesn't want to think about the treatment, he needs to save his life, he knows they don't want to think about it either.

Luce's ability to mentor and brighten one's life is his purpose. It's what he believes God's plan was for him all along. He wants to be a protector of the students at Ben Franklin and their biggest supporter. He wants to enrich the lives of everyone he comes across and do that for as long as his body — or God — will allow him.

And when it is his time, he will accept it. But for now, he's got a lot of life left in him.

"I feel like God picked me to go through this for a reason," Luce said. "I don't think it was to make me suffer, even though that's part of it. I want to be around long enough to turn this program around with these wonderful coaches."

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.