Living Kidney Donation From Baseball Coach to Player a Success

February 2011

On February 7, 2011, Dr. Allan Kirk and Dr. Kenneth Newell's surgical teams successfully completed a living donor kidney transplant from the head baseball coach at Wake Forest University to one of his players. A human-interest story of the highest order, news of the surgery has been reported in approximately 480 media outlets and counting, including the New York Times, NBC Nightly News, NPR, CNN, CBS News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Examiner.com, WGCL-TV Atlanta, ESPN College Sports, USA Today.com and Fox Sports on MSN.

Freshman Kevin Jordan was recruited by head coach Tom Walter to attend Wake Forest University following his graduation from Northside-Columbus High School in Columbus, Ga., in Spring 2010. Mr. Jordan began to feel ill in January 2010 and was diagnosed with ANCA vasculitis, a type of autoimmune swelling caused by auto-antibodies. While normal antibodies are produced by the immune system to fight germs, auto-antibodies attack one's own cells and tissues, often leading to kidney failure.

As the disease worsened and he underwent daily dialysis, Mr. Jordan was limited in his ability to take part in fall practice at Wake Forest. Because of the progression of the disease, he did not return to Wake Forest for the 2011 spring semester. When doctors tested members of Mr. Jordan's family and did not find an ideal match, Coach Walter volunteered to undergo testing, was found to be a good match and decided to donate his kidney to Jordan. Assured that he could resume a normal lifestyle and aware that Mr. Jordan could languish on a national donor list for up to five years, Coach Walter said he never thought twice about his pledge.

"I didn't ask," said Mr. Jordan at a press conference held two days after the actual procedure (please see video below). "He volunteered. I'm just really thankful."

Coach Walter said that his motivation was not getting Mr. Jordan back as a player, but giving him "just a chance to be a college freshman."

Dr. Newell, who procured Coach Walter's kidney, and Dr. Kirk, who transplanted it into Mr. Jordan, said that medical advances have increased the success rate of matches and transplants.

A recipient, Dr. 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.

Forecasting Coach Walters' post-procedure outlook, Dr. Newell said: "Based on thousands of transplants, the expectation is that a year from now, or 20 or 40 years from now he's not going to feel any different than he would have otherwise."

Although kidney transplant patients require specialized medications to maintain the function of their kidney, medications can be tailored to allow patients to return to normal activities, including high-level athletic performance. As such, it is anticipated that Mr. Jordan will be able to return to competition for the 2012 season. Emory transplant surgeons are actively involved in the development of new transplant medications and in the adjustment of existing medications to minimize their side effects.