College Baseball Star Receives Kidney from His Own Coach

PHOTO: In this photo Coach Tom Walter of Wake Forest, visits with his player Kevin Jordan one day after donating a kidney to him.
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For Wake Forest University baseball coach Tom Walter, it was a kind of "divine intervention" that led him to donate his kidney to freshman outfielder Kevin Jordan.

"I feel I was meant to be here with Kevin," said 42-year-old Walter, whose players call him "Walt." "I don't consider myself a hero. It's just doing the right thing."

Walter recruited Jordan, now 19, to play baseball at Wake Forest following his graduation from Northside-Columbus High School in Columbus, Ga., in 2010.

But during the winter of 2010, Jordan's health rapidly began to decline. He suffered for weeks with flu-like symptoms, until doctors at Emory University Hospital found Jordan's kidneys were only functioning at 15 to 20 percent of capacity. Doctors diagnosed Jordan with ANCA vasculitis, a type of swelling caused by antibodies attacking his body tissue.

A Sudden Diagnosis

Doctors said that Jordan's diagnosis was sudden. It is the type of disease that comes on very quickly and does not have clear early symptoms.

Jordan started dialysis three times a week. As his condition worsened, doctors made the dialysis daily. Two days before he enrolled at Wake Forest for the fall semester, doctors told Jordan he needed a kidney transplant as soon as possible. Jordan completed the first semester of school while receiving dialysis.

"I didn't really think about [dialysis] shortening my life, but the whole time I was thinking: something is going to happen and I'll get better," said Jordan.

While doctors discussed Jordan's treatment and prognosis with Walter and a trainer, "our mouths were hanging open," said Walter. "We couldn't believe what he had endured. I made the decision immediately that if I could help, I would."

After Jordan's mother and brother were not found to be good donor matches, Walter was tested.

Walter learned he was a match in late January of this year. When he told his team a week ago that he'd be donating his kidney, the players gave him a round of applause.

'Veracity of One Individual'

"This was a really remarkable thing in such a short period of time," said Kirk. "It was the veracity of one individual that changed circumstance, and the focus is really on the remarkable nature on what Kevin and Walter did."

And Jordan, who was a 19th-round draft pick of the New York Yankees last June, said he is grateful.

"I don't think there are words for it in my vocabulary, but thankful is as good as it gets," said Jordan.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 109,719 people currently wait for an organ donation and 18 people will die each day waiting for an organ. Before Walter volunteered, doctors told Jordan he might have to wait three to five years on a list for an organ donation.

Live, Non-Familial Donations

But Newell said that transplant recipients gain an average of 10 extra years of life compared to patients living on dialysis. And in the last decade, more patients and healthy individuals have been open to live organ transplants through non-familial connections.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 1,496 kidney transplants were performed between unrelated direct donors in 2009.

"If you can come in with a living donor, you really can save a lot of time and stay healthier before things get worse," said Ellie Schlam, a spokeswoman for the National Kidney Foundation.

Schlam said that there are more donors than ever who do not know the particular person in need of a kidney.

"I think the motivation is different for everyone," said Schlam. "People will see something or hear of somebody who needs it, and something just spurs them to do it."

Just as Walter was spurred to help.

And Dr. Kenneth Newell, lead surgeon on the team that removed Walter's kidney, said that he expects both Walter and Jordan to make a full recovery.

On Wednesday, Walter was already planning on leaving the hospital and returning to his home in North Carolina.

"I feel terrific," said Walter. "It gets better every hour. If I had to get on a plane LSU today, I could do it."

Jordan hopes to leave the hospital by the end of the week.

"It's a little sore but I can't complain about any of this," said Jordan. "As soon as my body agrees with me and I'm allowed to start playing, I'll start playing."

Doctors said that Jordan should be able to swing a bat again in eight weeks.

"His abilities should be back to whatever they would have been, including sliding and all, even reaching for that long ball over the wall," said Newell.

"All along, it's been about trying to do the right thing," said Walter. "This whole process has never been about getting Kevin back on the field. This has been about Kevin having a chance at a normal life."

A Coach and His Team

Most people who hear the story may be surprised by the devotion of a coach to his player, but Steven Brooks, the 22-year-old captain of Wake Forest's baseball team, said that Walter would have done the same for any of his players.

"A lot of guys play extra hard with Walt as a coach," said Brooks. "And it's not like someone needed him to do something like give a kidney to want to play like that. But he would be willing to do anything for any of his players."

Brooks said that he speaks to Walter on the phone several times a day to talk practice, team strategy, or anything else on the player's mind. These days, Brooks has been calling to check on Walter and Jordan's recovery.

As for the players' deep respect for their coach, the admiration is mutual.

"There were a couple times in my young adult life that I considered getting out of coaching," said Walter. "I interviewed for some investment backing jobs, but I'd be sitting across from the interviewer, not too excited about being that guy in five years."

"After coaching for two weeks, I believed that this was my calling," said Walter.

Now, as Walt looks forward to checking in with his team this Friday, Jordan will recuperate, and continue to count his blessings.

"I try and complain a lot less," said Jordan."Going through this, you see people in a lot worse situations. I didn't have to ask anybody. I was lucky."

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