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

a blessing.”

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.”

Young might be a relative term. Yet as far-fetched as this next

pursuit might seem, Jones has been no stranger to beating the

odds.

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

December.

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

bloody urine.

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

baseball?”’

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

2006.

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.

Respect.”

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

donor.

”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