Reno and Sunny Mahe’s 3-year-old daughter passed away unexpectedly in November 2016, and Utah County mourned for the BYU football coach’s family loss. Now, four months later, a billboard on I-15 in Utah County celebrates Elsie Mahe’s life — and the lives she saved by her parents’ decision to donate her organs.
The National Kidney Foundation, which traditionally features collegiate football coaches on these billboards, decided to do things a little differently this time. “Because Elsie donated,” the sign reads, “5 lives are saved.” A picture of Elsie is also on the billboard.
Reno’s family and friends would always point out when he was on a billboard, Reno said in a Facebook video. Changing up the billboard routine, though, was no problem for him.
“They called and asked if they could honor my daughter and our decision for her to donate her organs, and I thought it would be a great tribute to her,” Reno said in a video about the billboard.
However, Reno planned to surprise Sunny and tell her nothing about it beforehand. “I thought it would be something fun to surprise her with and I knew she would love it,” Reno said.
And the surprise worked. In the video, Sunny explains that the day before was four months exactly since Elsie’s passing and Sunny was emotional from the tribute to her daughter. “I wasn’t expecting this for sure, but it’s wonderful.”
Utah Valley Magazine featured Reno in its annual Fab 40, and he talks about the challenges and blessings that have come from the loss of his and Sunny’s daughter.
“As a father, husband and coach you’re always trying to be tough and have this attitude of, ‘It’s OK, everything is good,’” Reno said in the interview. “But every now and then you get choked up and you just want to get in a corner and cry.”
Read Reno’s Fab 40 story here.