Editor's Note: This story originally ran back in 2011, but with Wake Forest advancing to the Super Regionals, it is time again to show how great Tom Walter is as a person, and not just a baseball coach.
In the cutthroat industry of college recruiting, athletics and competition, many times coaches will stretch the truth to make a college or university seem more enticing for a potential recruit. It seems as if every single recruiting story that surfaces is negative. Money has been exchanged, the coach lied about playing time, players get cut to make room for better players. These are just some of the stories that have surfaced in the past year alone. Make no mistake; this is NOT one of those stories.
Pro Humanitate (for the good of humanity) is the motto of Wake Forest University. As a student here, I have observed that some take this more seriously than others. President Nathan Hatch and Athletic Director Ron Wellman certainly take this very seriously when hiring professors or coaches here as well.
It is hard to imagine that anybody on campus, or really in all of college athletics, embodies this motto more than head baseball coach Tom Walter. You see to him, "family" and "Pro Humanitate" are not just phrases that he throws around on the recruiting trail. Once an athlete signs their letter of intent to play baseball for him, they become family, and he would do absolutely anything for him. That's why when Wake Forest baseball player Kevin Jordan, who suffers from ANCA vasculitis, needed a new kidney, Tom Walter decided to give him one of his own.
But, again, the third was just about Wake Forest itself. The background, the family-oriented atmosphere. We really felt good when we went to the school. I don’t think we had that many long conversations, but they were probably the most meaningful conversations that you can have. My wife was almost sold immediately. Those things really played an important part of our decision and Kevin’s decision-making.- Keith Jordan (Kevin's father)
It would be a failure on my part if I didn't start from the beginning of this amazingly courageous story, so here we go:
This story involves relies heavily on two individuals: 42 year-old Wake Forest head baseball coach Tom Walter and 18 year-old Wake Forest baseball player Kevin Jordan. The two first cross paths on July 1st, 2009 when Walter contacts Kevin Jordan (an "under-the-radar" recruit) to see if he has any interest in attending Wake Forest on a baseball scholarship. Jordan blows up over the summer and when he signs his National Letter of Intent on November 11th, 2009 to become a Demon Deacon, he is ranked 43rd in the nation by Perfect Game and is drafted in the 19th round by the New York Yankees. Kevin honors his commitment to Wake Forest and accepts the scholarship.
Around January, Kevin is not feeling well and is initially told he has the flu. He has lost around 20 pounds, and his doctor figures that there is something wrong. Jordan is referred to Atlanta's Emory University Hospital for further evaluations. The Jordans' world is rocked when they find out he had has ANCA vasculitis. ANCA stands for Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Autoantibody. In simplest terms, his cells (autoantibodies) are attacking the insides (cytoplasm) of the white blood cell called neutrophils. This caused the vasculitis, which in the kidneys causes renal (kidney) failure.
Kevin Jordan's kidneys are functioning at 15-20%, and to combat that, he is taking 35 pills a day. The disease worsens over the summer and he is placed on dialysis 3 times a week. Despite the medicines and dialysis, Kevin enrolls at Wake Forest. Just as Kevin honored his scholarship to Wake Forest, Tom Walter honored his commitment to Kevin Jordan. Two days before classes are to begin, the Jordans meet with Dr. Barry Freedman at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. His kidney is now functioning at only 8%, and he is moved into in-home dialysis where he is hooked up 10 hours a day. A transplant is needed as soon as possible.
The medical testing of Kevin's family is done, but unsuccessful because there is no match. This is where Tom Walter enters again. Coach Walter realizes that he has the same blood type as Kevin, and suggests to Dr. Freedman that he be checked to see if a match is possible. On December 20th, 2010, Coach Walter passes the first test and is instructed to come back in on January 3rd, 2011 to complete another test. He comes back again and passes the next test. Throughout the month of January, Coach Walter undergoes even more strenuous testing to see if the donation can be made. He passes all of these tests as well, and is told that he is in fact a match for Kevin.
"Well, as soon as we found out the last person . . they tested various family members and Mr. Jordan can correct me if I’m wrong. The last person they tested was his brother and I think they found out sometime in mid-December that the brother wasn’t going to be a match. Again, Mr. Jordan might have a better feel for that. As soon as I found that out, Mr. Jordan and I were in contact and he said ‘well, Coach if you’re still willing.’ I said ‘absolutely, just tell me what I need to do’. He gave me the phone number of the living donor coordinator here in Winston-Salem. I called her immediately and set up my appointment to come in and get my blood work done."-Coach Walter
"I can tell you my wife tested. I have high blood pressure so that knocked me out right off the bat. His brother was tested and was not able to do it. For Coach Walter to do it, you just don’t know what it means for our family, for Kevin. I mean, I have a 92-year old father and he was just amazed and thankful. It’s just something that you can’t imagine. I go back to what somebody kind of mentioned, about divine intervention. You look at everything that happened, how we even got to Wake Forest, then to meet a coach like Coach Walter, and when we were deciding on schools and looking at some of the things he’d been through and done. It’s just one of those things you can’t express in words, to say the least."- Keith Jordan
On January 31st, 2011, Coach Tom Walter talks to Athletic Director Ron Wellman to make sure it was alright if they proceeded. Mr. Wellman immediately granted his blessings without hesitation. After talking to his family, Coach Walter decides that he does in fact want to do the donation, and the date is set for February 7th, 2010.
"They were certainly stunned, I guess, is the right word. They were taken aback was the initial reaction. They didn’t really know what to make of it. It was out of left field. All along, they were made aware of Kevin’s situation so they knew what was going on and they knew that Kevin’s family members were being tested first. Ideally, they’d like to stay within the family because it’s a better chance for a good match. Obviously with the DNA being similar and what-not. I don’t know the medical background on that. But once they got past the initial shock, there was nothing but support. There was never a time where anybody in my family or at Wake Forest said ‘Hey, you need to re-consider this.’ It was always in full support of the decision. Which made my decision a lot easier. If somebody in my immediate family had said to me, ‘Please don’t do this,’ then I certainly would have had a much, much tougher decision." -Coach Walter
This story met a sort of conclusion yesterday as the transplant from Walter to Jordan was successful. Of course there is rigorous rehab for the both of them to get to the point where they can live "normal lives" again, but the most dangerous part is over.
"Certainly, the best-case scenario is that Kevin and I just lead a normal life. For Kevin’s sake, I think that’s the first goal, that Kevin can just have a normal life. Forget the baseball part of it for now. If he gets back on the field, that’s going to be the best story of all. That’s when you guys are going to be calling back for another press conference, because that’s going to be the great story, when he makes it back to the playing field. But, take that aside, just him having a normal life, where he can be a normal college student and not be hooked up to a dialysis machine from 11 o’clock at night to eight in the morning every night and just be a normal freshman. The same thing for me, that I can do all the things that I’ve been able to do my whole life, all the things I enjoy doing. Go for a run, or play with my kids, or play a round of golf, or coach third base and hit fungoes. Those are basically the five things I love to do."-Coach Walter
"I would like to just again express my thanks to Coach Walter and the Wake Forest staff and also the baseball players themselves. I will echo what Coach Walter said that this is a really great, unique atmosphere to be in. The word family really means something to Wake Forest. We know we’ve made some great decisions to get (Kevin) to this point." -Keith Jordan
We here at Blogger So Dear are amazed at the courage and strength from Tom Walter, Kevin Jordan and the entire Jordan family to take a situation as horrible as this one and turn it in to a success story. We would like to extend our sincerest thoughts and prayers to Coach Walter and Kevin for a swift and complete recovery.
At times we all lose sight of the fact that college athletics are about much more than wins and losses. It is funny how it takes something this serious to remind us of that. It is a true honor and privilege to have men of such high character at our beloved Mother So Dear, and makes me as proud as I have ever been to be a Demon Deacon.
Tom Walter can now add another title to his resume in life: hero. His wife, players and kids already knew it, and now the world knows it. Thank you Tom Walter, for making the world a better place, and giving our youth of today a real hero to emulate, both on and off the field.