MEMPHIS – As a high school baseball standout growing up in east Tennessee, Clay Greene was invincible, or at least seemingly unstoppable, on the base paths.
He set a Cleveland High School record by stealing 37 bases as a senior and led the program to a district title and runner-up finish in regional play .
W hen he signed with the University of Tennessee, Greene continued to excel. In 1997, his senior season, he seta Vols record with 54 stolen bases – including six in a game against Middle Tennessee State – and was a key contributor to UT reaching its second straight NCAA regional.
After college, major leaguebaseball summoned. He was drafted by San Francisco and began a four-year pro career in the Giants’ minor league system, envisioning the day, perhaps, when he’d be racing home on a base hit by Barry Bonds.
Life was throwing no curveballs at Greene. Or so it appeared.
Greene, 39, who recently completed his third season as a baseball assistant coach at the University of Memphis, is scheduled Tuesday to undergo his second kidney transplant operation in five years. The donor will be his wife, Heather, a nurse practitioner at The West Clinic and a former soccer player at Tennessee.
“He doesn’t tell a whole lot of people he’s been sick or needs a transplant,” Heather said. “I
He doesn’t tell a whole lot of people he’s been sick or needs a transplant. I think the only reason he decided to talk about it is he thought, ‘I can make this bigger than me. It’s not just about me being sick and my experience.’ ”
Heather Greene, wife of University of Memphis assistant baseball coach Clay Greene
University of Memphis assistant baseball coach Clay Greene is scheduled to undergo his second kidney transplant next month.
think the only reason he decided to talk about it is he thought, ‘I can make this bigger than me. It’s not just about me being sick and my experience.’ “He knows there may be everyday people you may be sitting next to in the coffee shop, or even in your neighborhood, going through something like this and others need to know how important organ donation can be for those regular everyday people.” When he was released by the Giants in February 2001, Greene would soon be reminded of a physician’s concern nearly 15 years earlier.
A doctor had discovered traces of protein in his urine during a routine physical to play seventhgrade football. Protein in the urine is recognized as one of the earliest signs of kidney disease.
“It was the first physical I ever took,” Greene said. “The doctor said they’d monitor it.” Greene dismissed the diagnosis until he was in his mid-20s, several months after he’d left pro baseball.
“In November of 2001, I was at my future wife’s house for Thanksgiving,” he said. “I was eating a lot of turkey, there was a lot of salt involved. Well, the disease had flared up then, but I didn’t know it.
“I remember getting out of the shower (a few days later) and I looked like I was 20 pounds heavier. I got dressed, ran downstairs, and my ankles were swollen.” Heather knew immediately that Greene was likely suffering from kidney disease. She was aware of his medical history.
Greene began to treat his condition and persevered through some difficult times, including undergoing dialysis. Eight years later, while an assistant at East Tennessee State, Greene said his condition worsened as the baseball season began.
“My kidneys were crashing,” he said. “I went into renal failure. That was astruggle. I made it all the way until June without having to go on dialysis. Then I was on dialysis for 17 weeks.” Greene said his mother, Mabel, then 66 years old, was found to be a match.
He encountered no problems with his donated kidney until last summer as he was preparing to depart on a recruiting trip to Atlanta.
“I had gone to see the doctors – in my situation you go once every three months for blood work,” Greene said. “The doctors called me and said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get back here; we’ve got to put you in the hospital.’ ” Greene said disease had returned to the transplanted kidney, which Greene was told was rare.
Once again, his condition worsened as he tried to delay a second transplant until after the 2014 U of M baseball season. His doctor was trying to help him get through the season without undergoing dialysis, a threetimes-a-week procedure. During the last month ofthe season, Greene said he was getting sick daily. He lacked energy and couldn’t last an entire practice session. He lost 40 pounds.
“He wasn’t feeling good, he was getting tired easy,” Tigers head coach Daron Schoenrock said. “And he is someone who never, ever complains about anything or says he can’t do something. The whole year we had to hold him back from taking (extra) recruiting trips.” Greene started dialysis four weeks ago “to build up” for the second transplant.
“My wife is the perfect match,” he said. “I guess I married the right person.” Heather, 36, expected she’d be an ideal donor.
“I have O-positive blood,” Heather said. “I knew that I was the universal donor. I can give blood to anybody, but, of course, there’s a little more that goes into (being a transplant match). I was about 98 percent sure, but when they called and actually told me it would work … it was very emotional, very overwhelming.” Donors must submit to a wide range of tests – physically, emotionally and psychologically – to ensure they are a fit, Heather said.
“They want to make sure this is something you want to do,” she said.
Schoenrock said Greene’s fight has inspired him. He said when he recently renewed his driver’s license, he checked the organ donor box for the first time. He also said Greene’s approach to the situation is another reason Schoenrock believes it’s only a matter of time before Greene earns a head coaching job.
“Being a head coach is definitely on his future agenda,” Schoenrock said. “He is moving closer toward that every day.” Greene, however, is only thinking short term and being at 100 percent efficiency again.
“Last time, I walked out of the hospital in three days,” Greene said. “You feel so good. Your blood is clean all the time. You have instant energy. I can’t wait.”
Courtesy of: Phil Stukenborg
Published by: Knoxville News Sentinel