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Alumni Newsmakers

The Meaning of Team

Former GW Baseball Head Coach Tom Walter holds his son and 2002 Atlantic 10 Conference Championship plaque.

On Feb. 11, four days after he donated a kidney to one of his players, Wake Forest University baseball coach Tom Walter, MBA '94, attended his first team practice of the season. Mr. Walter talked intermittently to players about hitting and batting practice. But after about 45 minutes on the team's home field in Winston Salem, N.C., the fatigued coach watched the workout from the press box.

"I didn't do a whole lot. Just made a showing," says Mr. Walter, who was an assistant coach at George Washington University from 1992 to 1994 and head coach from 1997 to 2004, compiling a 275–184 record and winning more games than any other Colonials baseball coach.

Recovery for Mr. Walter, 42, meant he needed time before he could readily perform his usual coaching duties—running out of the dugout to question an umpire, pitching batting practice, and yelling loudly out onto the field. But these limitations didn't bother Mr. Walter. It was a small price to pay for what he accomplished on the morning of Monday, Feb. 7.

On that day Mr. Walter donated a kidney to Kevin Jordan, a swift, power-hitting, first-year Wake Forest outfielder. When the donation was announced, Mr. Walter, who coached at the University of New Orleans from 2005 to 2009 and moved to Wake Forest in 2010, went from a relative unknown to the major figure in a widely covered U.S. news story.

Mr. Jordan is now working to regain the form that prompted the New York Yankees to select him in the 19th round of the baseball free agent draft last summer. Mr. Jordan turned down the Yankees' offer and opted to attend Wake Forest.

Walter is the head baseball coach at Wake Forest University.

Courtesy Wake Forest University

But his dreams of stardom in professional or college baseball were sidetracked when symptoms of kidney disease appeared in January 2010, during his senior year of high school. He was told he had the flu but lost energy and power and speed on the baseball field. He also dropped 20 pounds during the next four months.

In April he was diagnosed with ANCA vasculitis, a rare disease in which the immune system attacks parts of the body, leading to kidney failure. Jordan was also told that his kidney was functioning at 15 to 20 percent of its ability. During the summer of 2010, he was on dialysis three times a week.

After learning the details of Mr. Jordan's condition, Mr. Walter offered to have his blood tested for transplant compatibility. When tests on Mr. Jordan's family produced no compatible donors, the family accepted Mr. Walter's offer and found that he was a match.

After the kidney transplant occurred, Mr. Walter and Mr. Jordan held a news conference for about 65 reporters. During the next few days, Mr. Walter conducted approximately 25 separate interviews, about 22 more than usual at the start of a baseball season, for outlets including CNN and the CBS Evening News. Before his team's opening game at Louisiana State University, 10,000 LSU fans stood and cheered him for about a minute.

"When we recruit our guys," he said at a pre-operation teleconference for the media, "we talk about family and we talk about making sacrifices for one another, for our teammates. So it's something we take very seriously."

"I would have donated a kidney to any member of our team," he said in a later interview. "If there was a player from 10 years ago and I was a match, I would have given him a kidney. It has nothing to do with who he is. If he's an equal member of our team, I'm going to do whatever I can to help. And this is something I think anybody would do for a family member."

—Gary Libman