Gathers family grateful after successful kidney transplant

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, April 5, 2017

JEFFERSON — Greg Gathers knows his wait was short, but it was still longer than expected.

After more than a month’s delay, the former East St. John High School football player and coach finally got his new kidney and a new lease on life last week.

Gathers, who now lives in Gonzales and coaches at East Ascension High School, underwent a 3-hour procedure March 27 at Ochsner Medical Center in Jefferson, during which he received a kidney from childhood friend Christopher Wallace of LaPlace.

Wallace, whose procedure lasted four hours, was released from the hospital after just a few days.

Gathers had to remain a few extra days to get his blood pressure under control, but the 35-year-old father of four said he is doing great.

Christopher Wallace, left, gives a thumbs up the day after he underwent a 4-hour procedure to donate a kidney to his childhood friend Greg Gathers, right, at Ochsner Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Danaya Gathers)

“I’m doing about as good as I can possibly be,” he said. “I am just so thankful that he stepped forward. He read the story in the newspaper and got in touch with me. It’s definitely a blessing.”

Gathers was a standout defensive lineman at East St. John in the 1990s and went on to start a brilliant career at Georgia Tech, becoming the school’s all-time leader in sacks.

An NFL career seemed well in his future when he was diagnosed with focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a potentially fatal kidney disease.

In 2005, Gathers received a kidney from his mother, Janice. There were complications during the surgery, however, and Janice nearly died. The kidney was damaged during the procedure.

Last year it began to fail.

The Gathers family went public with Greg’s need for a new kidney in July, asking friends, family and strangers to get tested to see if they were a match.

Meanwhile, Gathers was undergoing thrice weekly dialysis treatments and settling in for what he thought would be a long wait.

Wallace, who had been friends with Gathers as a child, had himself tested and, in February, doctors determined he was a perfect match.

While Gathers didn’t have to wait years like some on the waiting list, he did have to wait a few extra weeks as Ochsner experienced an influx of cadaver kidneys for transplant.

Then Gathers and Wallace had to rearrange their own schedules.

Gathers said it wasn’t that hard to wait.

“It’s nothing compared to some other people,” he said. “I’ve met people who had to wait two to 15 years to get a kidney. I met a guy just the other day who has been waiting since 2001.”

In a few weeks Gathers will return to his coaching and teaching duties, but he also plans to help other kidney patients.

“I’ve been counseling some others through the process,” he said. “I feel like it’s kind of my duty to become an advocate. If my story can help somebody else, it’s definitely a blessing.”