It is a grim reality that people in need of life-saving organ transplants must go downhill in order to rise up on the waiting list.

For Andrew Furr, organizer the past several years of the annual Grove City Community Parade, things went so far down physically, it didn't look like up was going to arrive in time.

Wife Mary was forced, much against her wishes, to contemplate life without her husband of 18 years, the father of their three children.

"To be honest, I felt like I would lose him," Mary Furr said last week. "I didn't think he would be here this summer."

Andy Furr is not only still here this summer, but he's sufficiently recovered from liver replacement surgery Feb. to be ready to put together the Community Parade -- once he can get a pesky little knee replacement operation out of the way.

Andy Furr was born in Chillicothe but grew up in Grove City. After graduating from Grove City High School in 1983, he worked for a time at Grant Medical Center before spending three years as a firefighter with the Scioto Township Fire Department in Pickaway County. After that he worked in construction management until 2004, when he switched over to a company that serviced gas pumps and other equipment at service stations.

The troubles that would put him on an operating table at the Cleveland Clinic this past winter started on July 1, 2006, when Furr experienced some internal bleeding.

He was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver.

Most people associate the condition with prolonged and severe alcohol abuse, but in Furr's case it was the result of something called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a genetic disorder that can cause lung disease in adults and liver disease in both adults and children.

As a result of Andy Furr having the inherited condition, the couple's middle child, Christopher, 15, has also been diagnosed with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and has begun receiving treatment. Andy and Mary Furr have another son, 16-year-old Joshua, and a daughter, Rachel, 13.

For a time, treatment kept Andy Furr's cirrhosis of the liver under control. But only for a time.

By last September, Furr said, his "symptoms really started hitting." The decrease in liver function would cause the ammonia levels in his body, particularly in his brain, to "skyrocket."

This resulted at times in a coma, but on other occasions in loss of control. Furr actually hit, kicked and even spat at people, entirely unaware. At times he had to be placed in restraints. During November and December of last year, Furr was home from Mount Carmel West for all of five days.

On Dec. 21, he was transported to the Cleveland Clinic for an evaluation and placed on the list for a liver transplant.

Furr was told the call might come that night, but then again it might not come for three weeks and it might not come for six months.

Andy Furr might not have had six months.

His kidneys began to fail, putting his life at even greater risk but also pushing him up the list. "The call" finally came in at 11:34 p.m. on Feb. 21.

"It was such a relief," Mary Furr said.

Their joy, however, was tempered with the knowledge that Andy's shot at a longer life came at the expense of another person's.

"Someone's loss is our gain," Mary Furr said.

Andy Furr's operation took place the day after the call, and it was a complete success.

"I pinked right up," Furr said, adding that his doctors have been pleased with his recovery.

Furr, who became involved with the annual parade as a means of giving back to a community he feels has given him so much, had his faith in that community renewed as a result of his brush with ill health and lengthy recovery. Friends of the family conducted benefits, he said. Some members of First Baptist Church of Grove City, which the Furrs attend, gave up their Christmas, donating money to the family instead of buying one another presents, his wife said. Mary Furr ran into Andy's second-grade teacher at a diner, and was immediately presented with a check to help them out.

"It just was overwhelming, the support of the community," Andy Furr said. "It kind of reinstills your belief that people are good."

Andy Furr volunteered to help out with the annual event eight or nine years ago, when James F. Hale, executive director of the Grove City Area Visitors and Convention Bureau, handled the organizing duties.

"Andy first came to the parade just as a volunteer," Hale recalled last week. "He didn't come with any specific job in mind. He said, 'I'm here and I'll just do whatever you say.' He had such a strong attitude toward wanting to see this parade succeed and move forward, I was just impressed with him from day one."

When Hale decided he had to give up parade director duties to concentrate on his work for the tourism bureau, it seemed only natural to ask Furr to move in and take over.

"Every year I always said I'll never do it again," Furr said. "Then the day after we pull it off I'm ready to start all over."

This year's Grove City Community Parade is set for Saturday, Sept. 20. The theme is "Making History."

Andy Furr intends to be around to see more parades become a part of Grove City's history.

kparks@thisweeknews.com