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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Even More Pride for Deacon Fans

It is so nice to be able to share good news about a college sports team and I'm extra proud that it's good news from our WFU Deacons! Here's the story from today's Winston-Salem Journal about the WFU baseball coach giving a kidney to one of his freshman players.

Coach's sacrifice: Wake Forest baseball coach gives kidney to player

Coach's sacrifice: Wake Forest baseball coach gives kidney to player
Credit: Journal file photo
Tom Walter (on left) and Kevin Jordan.
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Even though he wants his baseball players to swing for the fences, coach Tom Walter of Wake Forest University recognizes that there are some situations in baseball, as in life, that call for a sacrifice.
It was in the fall while running, when he does his deepest and clearest thinking, that Walterthe second-year coach of the Deacons, devised perhaps the most benevolent and consequential sacrifice the game has known.
Surgeons at Emory University Hospital in Atlantaexecuted the play flawlessly today, removing a kidney from Walter and transplanting it into a freshmanoutfielder named Kevin Jordan who has yet to play a game at Wake Forest.
By late Monday afternoon, both were out of intensive care and resting as comfortably as could be expected.
“First and foremost, I just wanted to help this young man,” Walter said Thursday as he discussed the pending surgery. “When we recruit our guys, we talk about family, and we talk about making sacrifices for one another, for our teammates. That’s something we take very seriously, and I think this is something that anybody would do for a family member.
“So once I had the support of my family, Wake Forest and (Athletics Director) Ron Wellman and my players, to me it was a no-brainer decision.”
Jordan was diagnosed in April, during his senior year at Northside-Columbus High School in Georgia, withANCA vasculitis. It is a type of autoimmune swelling caused by abnormal antibodies that attack one’s own cells and tissues. By August, his kidney function was reduced to 8 percent.
Even so, he enrolled in Wake Forest and attended fall classes, despite having to stay connected to dialysis18 to 20 hours a day through a catheter in his stomach. He desperately needed a donor, but tests among his family members revealed no suitable match.
Walter, inspired by the courage it took for Jordan to carry on, already had told Jordan’s parents, Keith andCharlene Jordan, that he wanted to be tested.
“I think they found out sometime in mid-December that (there) wasn’t going to be a match,” Walter said. “As soon as I found that out, Mr. Jordan and I were in contact.
“And he goes, ‘Coach, if you’re still willing ….’ I said, ‘Absolutely, tell me what I need to do.’”
Walter underwent several rounds of testing that required two days at Emory University Hospital. He was at practice Jan. 28 when received word.
He matched.
“I never carry my cellphone with me at practice because I just don’t think it’s right,” Walter said. “But it was our first official practice on the 28th, and I had my cellphone with me because Erica Henderson from the donor program at Emory had told me she would call.
“We were about a half hour into practice and I got the call, and that’s when I found out. So I couldn’t even make the requisite phone calls because I needed to finish practice.”
Upon receiving the news by e-mail, Keith Jordan knew his son — a promising player drafted in the 19th round by the New York Yankees in June — had chosen the right school to attend.
“For Coach Walter to do it, you just don’t know what it means for Kevin, our family,” Keith Jordan said. “I have a 92-year-old father, and he was just amazed and thankful. It’s something that you just can’t imagine.
“I go back to divine intervention, when you look at everything that happened, how he even got to Wake Forest, and then to meet a coach like Coach Walter.”
Before committing to surgeryWalter discussed the decision with his wife, Kirsten; his son, Chase, 11; his daughter, Kasey, 9; his team; and his boss, Wellman, who hired Walter to replace Rick Rembielak in June 2009.
“It was a surprise for sure, because it’s not a routine part of the day getting news like this,” Wellman said. “But in reflecting upon it after we had the initial conversation, it shouldn’t have been a surprise because that’s the type of person he is, and he really does believe in his team being a family.”
Walter, though told he’ll be in the hospital three to seven days, is already chafing to be back in Winston-Salem with his team. The Deacons open their season at Louisiana State University on Feb. 18. He has to remain in the Atlanta area for a week to meet with doctors, but he plans to be on the plane to LSU.
“Truthfully the biggest thing I worried about is not being able to eat jambalaya when I get to New Orleans,”Walter said. “I’ve been afraid to ask that question.”
But not even the wonders of Cajun cuisine will have Walter feeling like his old self. That, he has been told, will require about two months as his body adjusts to the missing kidney. In the meantime, he’ll turn much of the day-to-day operation of the baseball program to his assistants, Dennis HealyBill Cilento and Grant Achilles.
A help throughout the process has been Dennis Womack, the head baseball coach at the University ofVirginia from 1980 through 2003 who recently donated a kidney to a family member.
“The biggest thing from what he tells me that I’m going to fight is fatigue really more than anything else,”Walter said. “And the doctor told me this as well.
“Most days I’ll get up and I’ll feel great in the morning, and then four hours later I won’t be able to keep my eyes open. Fortunately for me the Wake Forest people have provided me with a couch here in the office so I can maybe take some catnaps.”
Jordan withdrew from Wake Forest for the spring semester, but he plans to return in June for summer school. When healthy, he’s a fast, strong outfielder who, according to Walter, other coaches have to manage around.
“Forget the baseball part of it for now,” Walter said. “If he gets back on the field, that’s going to be the best story of all.”
Most important, Jordan will have a normal life without constantly being hooked up to a dialysis machine,Walter said.
As for Walter, he said not to expect him to charge out of the dugout to argue an umpire’s call anytime soon. Just hitting fungoes to his outfielders might be a stretch.
But there will be a day, maybe in March or April, maybe not until May, when he will wake up, put on his T-shirt, shorts and running shoes, and head out the door.
“Running is my stress release, and it’s my time to think, where I can sort through some of the things in my head like lineup decisions and things like that,” Walter said. “I’ll be looking forward to that first time I can get out there and run again.”

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