Ex-KU basketball star needs kidney transplant

Posted at 4:00 PM, Mar 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-10 13:22:09-05

The 1991 NCAA Basketball Championship game is still a bittersweet memory for Alonzo Jamison.

"Some things you don't forget, and that's one of them," Jamison remembered. "Unfortunately I went one for 10 shooting that game." The Jayhawks lost to Duke 72-65, a score the forward carries even now. "It's just one of those things that you always have things in your background that you hope you could change."

In the years since, Jamison has played overseas and coached basketball as well. A year ago, however, he lost a step.

"Started feeling really bad and diabetes is actually on both sides of my family," Jamison said.

After he stopped playing basketball, he developed Type 2 diabetes, which caused his kidneys to fail.

"Went to the doctor and they told me I needed to be on dialysis like yesterday," he said. "It's been a whirlwind ever since, but I tell you what, it's been a 180-degree change. I feel a hell of a lot better than I ever felt."

Now, Jamison is on a form of dialysis that he does at home.

"It's called peritoneal where you use the peritoneal lining in my belly to actually get as much of the toxins out of my body as possible," he said.

It takes about 30 minutes to set up and works for eight to 10 hours while he sleeps each night.

Just last month, his wife, Colleen Jamison, was approved for kidney paired donation.

"Maybe there's somebody else out there that can use my kidney and maybe they have a kidney that he can use and we can all go into the hospital together and all come out happy," she said.

Amna Ilahe, the medical director of the Kidney Transplant Program at the University of Kansas Medical Center, explained: "It takes two incompatible pairs and they are placed on a paired donation list where the match run is done twice a week."

The chances of a match are one in about 30,000 to 40,000, but the list is shorter. Ilahe said, "At least a couple thousand patients versus the deceased donor list, there's more than a hundred thousand patients actively waiting."

For Colleen Jamison, the decision was easy.

"It was instantaneous. I mean, he's my husband," she said. "I'm glad that this process is working for him, but it's temporary, and he does need a kidney, and he needs it quickly."

Alonzo Jamison, however, is struggling with the idea of her losing a kidney so he can gain one. "I always feel it's always on my shoulders, nobody else's shoulders and that's why I have mixed feelings about my wife giving me a kidney. It's one of those things where it's on me and it's not on her because I don't want anybody going through what I go through. She will only have one kidney left. I feel like I would be robbing her."

History of organ sharing

This concept is not a new one. The University of Kansas Hospital started utilizing the United Network of Organ Sharing in late 2014. In its first kidney paired donation, Vicki Havey-Lovato donated for her husband Carlos Lovato in a surgery that took weeks to coordinate and had to be timed very closely.

"It is time-sensitive because we firstly ensure that both donors are going to have surgery approximately at the same time," Ilahe informed 41 Action News. That is to ensure that no one backs out once the organ they need has been removed. Ilahe added, "Once the kidney is out, we try to move very quickly to be able to give it to that other center in a reasonable time."

Each medical center has a committee dedicated to reviewing patients and living donors. They must be in good health with no medical conditions that put them at risk for future kidney disease. There is also an interview conducted to ensure there is no coercion or payment to encourage a person to donate.

Alonzo Jamison is not afraid of the surgery and said he is sharing his story "not just because I need it but because there's thousands of people that do need it. We need to have donors out there."

There are more than 100,000 people waiting for a kidney from a deceased donor. If a match is found for Alonzo Jamison through that list, it will be offered to him. Until he gets the call, no matter how a new kidney is found, he is drawing strength from his wife.

"Just knowing that she wants to do this is giving me an extra step," Alonzo Jamison said.

Colleen Jamison stressed, "What is important to me is his health and his happiness, and I think that both of those are tied up with a new kidney. It's just something that  feel like I have to do. I'm his wife, and if I can't do it for him, that's fine, but I at least have to try."


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