A new outlook on life in Wake
By Jon Cooper
February 9, 2011
A .150 batting average means you're successful 15 percent of the time. Those aren't great odds, but there are times when you simply ignore the odds.
Vanderbilt Baseball Head Coach Tom Walter was faced with that situation and never wavered, and there was a lot more at stake than a simple baseball game. This was real life. Freshman recruit Kevin Jordan needed a kidney transplant, and Walter was a match.
"Odds were 15 percent that we would actually get to this day," Dr. Kenneth Newell, Director of the Living Donor Kidney Program at Atlanta's Emory Clinic, said about Jordan's chances of finding a matching kidney donor and having a perfect transplant.
"I had made up my mind," said the 42-year-old Walter. "The average wait time [for a donor] was three years. I didn't want Kevin to wait one more day if I could help it."
Monday morning, Dr. Newell removed a kidney from Walter, and about a half-hour later, Dr. Allan Kirk, Professor and Scientific Director of the Emory Transplant Center, completed the transplant, giving it to Jordan.
"Two days ago, Kevin had failure. One day and 23 hours ago, he didn't," said Dr. Kirk. "That's really the remarkable thing about this situation. In just a short period of time, the generosity of one individual changed the circumstances. The focus really is on the remarkable nature of both Kevin and Coach Walter in this circumstance."
In those minutes, a young life was saved and two families became one.
"I've always had a strong sense of family, and I consider all 35 guys on our baseball team family," said Walter. "I would have made this decision for my mom or my sister or any player, past or present."
On Wednesday morning in a small, make-shift conference room, crammed with approximately 150 members of the media, Walter's mom, Anne, and sister, Jennifer Christianson, were present, seated in the front row, fittingly next to Jordan's father, Keith Jordan, and mom, Charlene. It was much like it was on Monday morning, only without the cameras and a much greater air of uncertainty.
Anne wasn't surprised by her son's willingness to give of himself; he'd shown similar bravery at the University of New Orleans in refusing to crumble or let anyone around him do so following Hurricane Katrina. His mother refused to take any credit for her son's values.
"I made the car; he's the driver," she said. "He's always been pretty willing to take whatever challenge is sent his way, and I know it seems like it's almost kismet that these things happen to him, but I think it's because he can handle them."
While she was glad it was over, she, like her son, never wavered.
"Not a doubt at all. We kept thinking of [Jordan's] parents and what they were going through," she said.
Charlene and Keith, Kevin's parents found their strength in their courageous 19-year-old son.
"There have been some ups and some downs. Mostly it's been that Kevin's been so positive about everything," said Keith. "He's really not complained. It's been humbling but at the end, I feel real comfortable that he's grown up and he can do things the way he needs to do it or the way he wants to do it. I'm just happy. I'm truly happy. I'm like him. I don't have the words."
"He has been the rock," added Charlene. "I can't say that I'm the rock. It's a combination. I just hung in there. I prayed a lot and just supported. You can't give up when you have a kid fighting like that. Nobody can ever give up."
Kevin certainly never did. He knew something was wrong last February, when he was sick, lost 20 pounds and never really got back to full strength. But he wasn't about to give up. Even when he was told in August that he would need dialysis he simply fought on.
"Before, I'd work out two or three times a day," he recalled. "So I had to learn limits. In my mind, I tried to go as hard as I could, but your body won't let you."
By Tuesday morning Kevin said he already felt noticeably better and harbors realistic hopes to resume baseball activities down the road -- doctors said he can start swinging a bat in six to eight weeks and will regain pre-illness fitness. But that's not the most important thing.
"I try not to think about the future, because things change just like that," he said. "I think about getting back to school first and foremost then resuming baseball."
Walter, who hoped to leave the hospital on Thursday, be back in Winston Salem on Friday and be back at practice in a limited capacity on Saturday, agreed.
" I will be coming home tomorrow. Checking in with team on Friday, be at practice on Saturday. If I had to get on a plane to LSU today I could do it," Walter said.
"Baseball's not the no. 1 priority," Walter added. "This has never been about him getting back on the field. It has been about Kevin having a chance at a normal life. The day he gets back on the field will be a great day for all of us, but this has always been about just Kevin having a chance to be a college freshman.
"To ask an 18-year-old to sit in his dorm room attached to a dialysis machine from 11 o'clock at night until 8 o'clock in the morning just breaks your heart. Hopefully, we're passed that now."
Walter hoped another lesson was learned, one about the perceived fear of donation.
"One thing people have to do is educate themselves. The risks aren't as great as you might think they are," he said. "Certainly there are risks with any surgery, but as I was talking with Dr. Newell, I just gained more and more confidence in the decision. I had made the decision. Even if the prognosis wasn't good, I still would have done it.
"I think maybe people's fears, the one thing they need to know is they give you an easy way out," he added. "If they don't want to do it for whatever reason, at any time, they'll just say the donor wasn't a match. People need to educate themselves foremost."
Kevin looks forward to and is grateful for the opportunity to further his education at Wake Forest.
"I'm just really thankful," he added. "I'll definitely be [at Wake Forest] for the next four years. I can't see myself saying no to him."
"I want him to get that degree and I want him back on the field," said Charlene. "I'm very confident both will happen."
When it does, there will be one big happy family -- bigger than it was just a few days ago.