When Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter donated a kidney to one of his players on Feb. 7, the act of generosity gave 19-year-old freshman outfielder Kevin Jordan a chance to lead a normal life and sent ripples of warmth throughout a jaded, me-first sports landscape. How each came to be in the other's life is just as remarkable as the bond that will forever unite them.
Before falling ill last winter with ANCA vasculitis, a rare autoimmune disorder that necessitated daily dialysis, Jordan was a standout high school lefthanded hitter in Columbus, Ga., where he was weighing his options among Wake Forest, Arizona State Auburn, Vanderbilt and pursuing a pro career. (Despite Jordan's commitment to Wake Forest, the Yankees took him late in the 2010 draft.)
Walter, 42, had been eyeing Jordan as one of his first recruits upon arriving in Winston-Salem in '09 from the University of New Orleans, a program that he had guided to national prominence in the wake of Hurricane Katrina before it became evident that a drop from Division I was inevitable due to financial constraints.
This winter, when none of Jordan's family members proved to be a donor match, Walter made good on his offer to get tested and wound up saving his player a three-to-five-year wait on the transplant list. Both are expected to make full recoveries following last week's surgery at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta: Walter hopes to be ready for his team's Feb. 18 season opener against LSU, and Jordan is aiming to practice this spring and take the field in fall after a semester away from school.
"It was fate," says Walter. "We were both meant to be at Wake Forest at the same time. I absolutely believe that. Take baseball out of it, I had a chance to help a young man lead a normal life and be a normal freshman in college. At no point did I second-guess this decision."
STEVE SHUTT/WAKE FOREST UNIVERSITY/REUTERS (WALTER AND JORDAN)
COACH CLASS Walter (right) was at Jordan's side just a day out of the operating room.