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Wake Forest Baseball Coach Donates Kidney to Player

Posted on 12 February 2011 by The Florida Star Online

ATLANTA — Outfielder Kevin Jordan focused his research on the opportunity for playing time when he was offered a scholarship at Wake Forest But, his father Keith had another set of priorities: Who is this coach, Tom Walter? Will he look out for my son? Oh, but that answere will come in due time.

Keith Jordan dug back to the coach’s previous tenure at the University of New Orleans. He discovered that, even though Hurricane Katrina had left Walter’s home in 12 feet of water, attention to his team’s needs never wavered.

Walter supervised the players’ temporary relocation to the campus of New Mexico State. And he vowed to assist anyone weighing a transfer to another college. “A lot of coaches wouldn’t have done that,” Jordan said Wednesday.

Far fewer would do what Walter did this week: donate a kidney to a player. Among the many questions Jordan had posed about the coach, one had never occurred to him: Would he part with a vital organ if his son needed it?

“Any player on the team, past or present,” Walter said during a goodnews conference at Emory University Hospital, two days after surgeons transferred one of his kidneys into Kevin Jordan.

“I didn’t ask,” said Jordan, a freshman from Columbus, Ga., who was not a transplant match with family members. “He volunteered. I’m just really thankful.”

Walter enjoyed his college days at Georgetown so much that he said the thought of Jordan sitting in a dorm room tethered at least eight hours daily to a dialysis machine — as Jordan was last semester — was unacceptable.

“It just breaks your heart,” Walter said.

He said that his motivation in donating a kidney was not getting back Jordan as a player, but giving him “just a chance to be a college freshman.”

“I couldn’t believe what he had endured,” Walter said. “It was obvious to me this was the right thing to do from Day 1.”

That day arrived last fall, soon after Jordan, 19 was found to have ANCA vasculitis, a rare kidney disorder resulting from autoimmune swelling. The diagnosis took months to pin down.

In qualifying as a donor match, Walter, a father of a son and a daughter, beat odds of about 7 to 1, according to Dr. Kenneth Newell, who handled the first half of the transplant. Assured that he could resume a normal lifestyle — the original kidney donor in 1954, Newell said Wednesday, lived until last year — and aware that Jordan could languish on a national donor list for up to five years, Walter said he never thought twice about his pledge.

A recipient, Kirk said, “receives an extra 10 years of life” over a dialysis patient. “Kevin should live a life that is normal in activity and normal in length,” he said.

Their story has resonated across the country, nowhere more movingly than in Dallas. In 2007, in an action that received widespread publicity, the retired Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls donated a kidney to ex-teammate Ron Springs.

Walls said he was especially impressed that, unlike he and Springs, Walter and Jordan were members of different age and racial groups.

The transplant raised the inevitable question of whether Wake Forest violated an N.C.A.A. rule by providing an “extra benefit” to an athlete, defined as a special arrangement not made available to other university students. Wake Forest’s Wellman acknowledged that an extra benefit was indeed conferred.

“No doubt about that,” he said. “I dare anyone to challenge this benefit.”

Erik Christianson, director of public and media relations for the N.C.A.A., said: “We wish Coach Walter and Kevin Jordan all the best. This wonderful act of compassion and generosity is truly extraordinary, beyond the scope of any rule.”

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