Search

Giving It Up for Zo

Dec. 15, 2003
Dec. 15, 2003

Table of Contents
Dec. 15, 2003

Inside Cover Image

Giving It Up for Zo

What kind of person would do that?

This is an article from the Dec. 15, 2003 issue Original Layout

What kind of sports-addled Velveeta brain would give away one of
his kidneys to a multimillionaire superstar athlete? Somebody
he's never even met?

Does he think the player will sign his bedpan? Has he always
wanted to get an organ into the NBA?

What insanity would cause more than 600 people to offer one of
their kidneys to Alonzo Mourning, the New Jersey Nets center who
was forced into retirement on Nov. 24 after doctors told him that
his kidney disease was not only career-ending but also
life-threatening if he couldn't find a matching donor?

Well, a 5'2", 30-year-old San Francisco novelist named Tiffany
Davis, for one.

"I was reading about it on ESPN.com," says Davis, a Nets fan and,
like Mourning, a Georgetown graduate, "and I was like, Damn, he's
fought so hard to keep playing, and now it's going down the
drain. And I realized my blood type was O, too. So I was just
moved to do it."

Davis dialed 1-800-633-6628, the Kidney & Urology Foundation of
America, Inc., and heard about the 59,000 people waiting for a
kidney, the 11 who die every day for want of one and the millions
of Americans with kidney disease trying to stay off that dark
list. Little crocodiles chewed at her insides.

"That's when I decided it doesn't have to be Alonzo who gets my
kidney, it can be anybody," she says. "I mean, why not? I've got
two. One is just hanging around." Now comes the hard part, she
says, "telling my mom."

Prizefighter Jonathan Reid of Nashville is another one of those
altruists. He was reading about Mourning in USA Today and decided
it was time to "help a brother out."

"I just thought, Man, this has got to be devastating to this
guy," says the 31-year-old Reid, who is 33-1 as a middleweight.
The more he found out, the more it pinched his conscience. And he
came to a decision: "If it turns out Alonzo doesn't need my
kidney," says Reid, a father of four, "I'd like to look into
giving it to someone else. I mean, I'm healthy, right? I just
can't tell my mom. She's a handwringer."

A boxer willing, for the sake of a perfect stranger, to fight
with one kidney. What gets into people?

What would make Dr. Julian Lopez of Las Vegas call his dying
buddy, Chicago White Sox owner Eddie Einhorn, out of nowhere last
year and insist he take his kidney? "We're going to find out if
chiles rellenos," the Albuquerque-born Lopez said, "go with
bagels and lox."

They do. Today Einhorn, 67, feels 25 years younger. Come to think
of it, so does Lopez. "I've learned a lot about what being a
friend is," Lopez says. "It's more than just trading jokes and
slamming cold ones. For me, Eddie was a golden opportunity to
improve somebody else's life, and I just couldn't pass it up."

So what is Einhorn supposed to give as a thank you--Frank Thomas?
"I got my friend back," says Lopez. "That's enough."

Something in all this bugs some people. David Garner's mother
waited on the list 11 years before she got a kidney, then died
when her body rejected it. "Where were all these people for my
mom?" Garner says. "I don't care if you're a famous athlete or
not, you should have to be on the waiting list just like everyone
else. Is the life of an athlete worth more than the life of
another person? I don't think it is."

Mourning will not affect the list, according to his nephrologist,
Dr. Gerald Appel, because he'll almost certainly find a donor
among his relatives and friends. "And then, I'm sure Alonzo will
get up in front of the world," says Appel, "and say, 'Please, all
of you who were willing to donate your kidney to me, donate it to
someone else.'"

In truth, Mourning's fame won't just save his life, it'll save
hundreds of lives.

My 25-year-old nephew, Reilly Capps, who writes for The
Washington Post, wants to save one, too. He came home to Denver
on Thanksgiving and announced he was going to donate his kidney
to the next person on the list. And this time it wasn't just a
mom wringing her hands--it was all of us.

But ... but ... but what about the way you ski? Going off cliffs
and between trees? "I'll wear a kidney belt," he said with a
shrug.

But ... but ... but what if your sister or brother needs your
kidney later? "I'll hope somebody else will step up and help," he
said, "just like I'm doing now."

But ... but ... but can't you wait until you've died? "Live
transplants are way more successful than cadavers," he said.

But ... but.... "Look," he said, "it doesn't hurt you. Life
expectancy for kidney donors is the same as for those who don't
donate. We don't need a second kidney. And I'm just not the kind
of guy who can sit here and let people die."

And that's when I realized that, apparently, I'm the kind of guy
who can.

I mean, what kind of person would do that?

B/W PHOTO: JEFFERY A. SALTER

"Life expectancy for kidney donors is the same as for those who
don't donate. We don't need a second kidney."