Difficult Roads = Beautiful Destinations; The Story of the Bekki and Michael Haggard Family Foundation


 Difficult Roads = Beautiful Destinations

The Story of the Bekki and Michael Haggard Family Foundation

By John Hayden and JP Hervis

You won’t find many trial attorneys more accomplished than Michael Haggard. It would be natural to conclude that his level of success means running his firm, The Haggard Law Firm, is his primary passion. But his individual devotion runs beyond the courtroom.

Haggard’s passion includes areas of his personal and professional life most touched by challenge, struggle, and tragedy. Those areas include the fight against gun violence, drowning prevention, youth mentorship, and curing Polycystic Kidney Disease (a disease that has deeply affected Haggard’s family and caused him to undergo a kidney transplant).

Haggard embraces systematic obstacles that would overwhelm most anyone else. That is why Michael, and his wife Bekki founded the Bekki and Michael Haggard Family Foundation at the Coral Gables Community Foundation.  Bekki Haggard says “Mike and I have always wanted to create a vehicle to give back to our local community as well as to support those causes that are meaningful to us and our family. This family foundation will do just that.”

Kidney Crisis: Saving Lives Through Research and Support

“The most important thing to me is the kidney issue,” Haggard said.

Haggard was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease, or PKD, when he was much younger. “I had declining kidney function. You look at your labs, have a good diet, but you know that, at sometime, it’s going to happen.”

PKD is progressive, and patients will feel fine for years, possibly decades, after diagnosis. The disease is also genetic, adding an extra layer of anxiety. “Both my children have a chance of getting the disease. Just as important, I’ve met hundreds of PKD families that have been absolutely devastated by polycystic kidney disease.” With about 600,000 cases in the U.S., PKD isn’t rare, but people still lack awareness.

Addressing the problems would need a new focus … and money. “We realized the way we were going to raise money from our friends and colleagues, it needs to be a fun event.”

Michael and Bekki hold PKD Casino For A Cure, an annual event where guests press their luck at the table games. Everyone has fun, but Haggard never seems to get his hands on the dice. “I’ve always said I want to learn how to play craps at that event. But I never get a chance to do it because I’m always going around thanking people for their efforts.”

The money raised, over $1.5 Million in fundraisers over 10 events, supports the PKD Foundation’s mission to fund research. Haggard is on the organization’s Board of Directors.

As for his PKD, Haggard was lucky. His brother-in-law Allen Buckhalt was a match and in 2016 Haggard underwent a kidney transplant at Tampa General Hospital (TGH). Both are still doing well today. But Haggard’s experience showed the transplant process needs work.

“When I got transplanted, [we] realized there’s not enough support for living donors. They are so important for a million reasons.” That realization led to the Haggard Family Foundation’s support for living donors.

Registering living donors means more options for transplant matches. It also allows patients to schedule their surgery (as opposed to coming on a moment’s notice when a kidney from a terminal patient becomes available).

The Foundation now funds a transplant coordinator at TGH, which works with families and patients. In the first year, living donor registrations doubled at the hospital.

Justice For A Safer, Better World

Haggard, through his law firm’s work, is devoted to fighting for clients and continuing crusades against gun violence and battling for safer pools. “I believe that the civil justice system’s ultimate role is to make society safer,” Haggard said. “Without the civil justice system we’d still have exploding Pintos. We would still have hotel keys that have your room number on it. We wouldn’t have seatbelts or airbags. So that’s the true goal of the civil justice system.”

Gun laws are a taboo subject for many. Not for Haggard. He says meaningful change is easy and attainable.

“We have a majority consensus of how we get there, but that doesn’t translate to our federal lawmakers.” Haggard says picking the ‘low hanging fruit’ would be an excellent start. Enforcing background checks and closing the gun show loophole could quickly be done.

He also advocates banning assault rifles, much like they were in the Clinton/Bush years. “The AR-15 has become an absolute new phenomenon. You’ve never been able to buy a machine gun in America. You can’t buy a grenade. You can’t buy a rocket launcher. The assault weapon is right in that category and now it’s the number one selling weapon.”

Gun violence is a uniquely American phenomenon. “We have less than five percent of the world’s population and we have more than 95% of gun violence deaths and injuries”

He has seen how gun violence works its way into every facet of life, even as a youth football coach. Haggard spent many years coaching his kids’ youth football teams. He quickly realized that beyond drawing plays, mentoring some of the other children off the field was essential. Those kids faced life realities most don’t and many times that was related to gun violence. “You would be at practice one night and someone’s cousin was shot. Their brother was shot. Not only is it about guns and violence, but it’s also about giving opportunities to kids.”

The Haggard Law Firm and the Foundation have supported organizations like Gifford, Brady, and others focused on what Michael calls the “epidemic of gun violence.”

Pool Safety

Pools are ubiquitous in Florida. If you don’t have a pool at your home or apartment/condo, you know someone who does. While fun, it’s also a danger.

“The number one cause of accidental death in children in Florida and the rest of the Sunbelt is drowning.”

Haggard and his firm have spent decades fighting for safer pool regulations. They’ve been successful despite pushback from companies placing profit over people.

“In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Suction Entrapment where kids were getting stuck on drains had become a major aquatic danger.  After Michael Haggard and The Haggard Law Firm had several successful cases against pool industry manufacturers, Haggard started lobbying the Consumer Product Safety Commission for safer drains and pool pumps.”

“We knew what was wrong. We uncovered the evidence. I kept telling them what was wrong, and their lawyers said it’s not the problem.”

Haggard finally represented Virginia Graeme Baker, the granddaughter of former Secretary of State Jim Baker. The young girl drowned after she was trapped underwater by a faulty drain cover. After the civil case concluded, Haggard worked with the Bakers to help pass the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act. In 2007, President Bush signed the act into law that requires safety improvements at public pools and spas to prevent drowning and entrapment. Since then, countless lives have been saved.

Michael is now on the Board of Directors for the National Drowning Prevention Alliance to continue he and the family Foundation’s work on this issue.

The challenges the Haggard Family Foundation has volunteered to tackle are not for the faint of heart. But the Haggards are fueled by the inspiration of families who push through after gun violence or drowning have devastated their lives, PKD patients holding their head high, and living donors dedicated to a self-sacrifice for the life of another.

The Haggards believe it is the difficult roads that lead to the most beautiful destinations.

“We are committed to tough causes but find strength and purpose in knowing we can and will make a difference” adds Bekki Haggard.

The Coral Gables Community Foundation is privileged to administer the Haggard Family Foundation. For 33 years, the Community Foundation has inspired impactful philanthropy through charitable funds and programs using local knowledge, expertise and trusted relationships.