Kidney transplant gives ex-NFLer a 2nd chance
Sore as the incision from his kidney transplant surgery might
still be, Donald Jones’ outlook on life is suddenly fresh.
Though Jones’ NFL career is over, what matters more to the
former Buffalo Bills receiver is knowing he has a father willing to
sacrifice anything – even a kidney. And that leaves Jones, who
turns 26 on Tuesday, thankful for a second chance.
”Going through all of that is like, man, I’ve got nothing to
lose. I’ve persevered through the worst,” Jones told The
Associated Press by phone this week from his hospital room at New
York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. ”It’s really
Happy birthday. And Merry Christmas.
Jones had surgery Dec. 3 and was released from hospital
Wednesday with a good prognosis for a full recovery.
Though he faces months of rehab, Jones has already made plans
for his next chapter. He’s determined to pursue another sport – his
first love, baseball.
Jones held workouts with scouts before his surgery. Without
saying which teams have expressed interest, he is already intending
to play winter ball next year.
”I’m going to make a run at it,” Jones said. ”I’m still
Young might be a relative term. Yet as far-fetched as this next
pursuit might seem, Jones has been no stranger to beating the
He was first diagnosed with IgA nephropathy – an auto-immune
disease affecting the kidneys – during his sophomore season at
Lackawanna Community College in Scranton, Pa. Jones continued
playing, spending two more years at Youngstown State, where he was
regarded a long-shot NFL prospect.
The Bills signed Jones as an undrafted rookie in 2010. He was
good enough to make the team and earn a regular role on what
eventually became known as Buffalo’s ”No-Name Offense” of
castoffs and journeymen led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
As a rookie, Jones had 18 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown
in 15 games, including five starts. He finished with 82 catches for
887 yards and six touchdowns in 35 games over three years before
the protein levels leaking from his kidneys began to spike. Jones
was placed on Buffalo’s reserve/nonfootball illness list in
The Bills and Jones never revealed what the illness was, but the
player acknowledges now he was having difficulty dealing with the
disease’s symptoms, which included swollen hands and feet and
After being cut by the Bills in February, Jones signed with New
England. It was during a visit with kidney specialist Gerald Appel
last summer when the severity of Jones’ condition was fully
revealed. His kidney functions had deteriorated to a level where
the only options were a transplant or dialysis.
”We tried a couple of things but it was just irreversible
damage at that point,” Appel said.
The next step was finding a match, which turned out to be Jones’
father, Donald Jones II.
Barring complications, Appel is confident Jones will live a long
and normal life, including the prospect of playing baseball.
”He is certainly not a quitter by any means,” Appel said.
”The first thing he talked to me about when he knew he needed a
transplant was, `Well, I can’t play football, but could I play
Appel is not aware of anyone in baseball ever playing after a
kidney transplant, but he’s familiar with one in basketball.
Among Appel’s patients is former NBA center Alonzo Mourning, who
had the same disease. Mourning continued playing after kidney
transplant surgery in 2003, and won a championship with Miami in
If Mourning can do it, why not Jones?
”You always want to make sure you can maximally protect the
transplant, but I think we’ll be able to figure out a way,” Appel
said. ”If he puts his mind to it, he’ll be able to do it.
Determination is the big thing.”
Bills receiver Stevie Johnson saw that determination firsthand
in his former teammate.
”He’s been taking it like a champ,” Johnson said. ”There’s
people who have no complications and are still sitting and sulking.
He’s not. He’s still trying to get it. My hat’s off to him.
Jones’ father doesn’t doubt his son’s aspirations given what
he’s already accomplished.
”I don’t put anything past this guy,” Donald Jones II said.
”He has definitely made me a believer.”
That faith is why Jones was elated upon first learning his
kidney was a match and, at 48, he was healthy enough to be a
”I feel pretty much like Santa Claus,” Jones said. ”I just
gave a gift and can’t wait for him to open it up, you know?”
His son knows.
”He and my mom gave me life, and then for him to give me a
second chance at life, it’s like the most amazing feeling in the
world,” Donald Jones III said. ”For him to have to go through all
of this stuff, it’s like, `Man, you know I love you.”’
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org