You know how the story begins. You’ve seen it thousands of times in movies and TV shows. A coach offers a talented player a scholarship to play for their school. The coach takes a liking to the player and treats him like family. The coach helps the player reach his full potential and gives him a chance no one else would. And then the credits roll and the movie is over, but this story doesn’t stop there.
Kevin Jordan is from Columbus, Georgia, a city 190 miles southwest of Atlanta. Tom Walter is the head baseball coach for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
Walter recruited Jordan, offered him a scholarship and soon after Jordan accepted, becoming part of Walter’s 2010 recruiting class.
Life was good for the outfielder. He was signed to play division I baseball and the New York Yankees took him in the 19th round of the MLB draft.
But a year and a half ago Jordan spent most of the spring of his senior year sick with what he thought was the flu. After dropping nearly 30 pounds, his family took him to Emory University Hospital for tests. What they found shattered his dreams of major league stardom.
Jordan was diagnosed with ANCA vasculitis, a disease in which your own white blood cells attack your tissues. Soon after, his kidneys began to fail and by the summer of 2010, he was on dialysis three times a week.
As the summer faded to fall, Jordan’s disease continued to progress. In August, just before he was set to begin attending classes at Wake Forest, doctors determined that his kidney function was just eight percent. An immediate transplant was recommended.
A kidney transplant requires a match and no one in Jordan’s family met the requirements. The only option was to join the national registry.
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, in 2009, 16,829 kidneys were transplanted in the United States but another 86,000 people remain on the registry list. A transplant could take years and Jordan didn’t have years.
This is where Walter comes in. When Jordan arrived on campus, Walter was so inspired by his players’ courage he decided he ought to get tested.
“The simple fact that he showed up on campus demands so much respect,” Walter said. “For an 18-year-old kid to go through what he’s gone through and just be on campus is an amazing story in itself.”
Around Christmas time last year Walter began the month long process of getting tested to see if he was a match. If you fail even one of the multitude of tests you’re out. But with every test Walter passed. On January 28, doctors ruled him capable of donation.
Ten days later while the world was reminiscing on the Packers’ Super Bowl win over the Steelers, Jordan and Walter went under the knife. After eight hours of surgery, Jordan had Walter’s kidney.
“I never once questioned the decision [to donate] from the beginning,” Walter said. “I got frustrated with the process, but never once said to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ In fact, it was the complete opposite. I would have been extremely disappointed for Kevin if I wasn’t a match. It wasn’t the 12th hour, but he was running out of options.”
Fast forward to Tuesday. Jordan took the field for the first time during the Demon Deacon’s first fall practice. The outfielder has made a full recovery and is expected to be a key piece in the lineup in the spring.
Coaches are supposed to be like father figures to their players. Walter made the ultimate sacrifice for Jordan, who now has a second chance at life. Finally, a coach who cares about his players as people. In the world of big time NCAA athletics, that’s hard to find. This world needs more Tom Walters.