Whitehall coach donates kidney to former player
Usually, a coach helps his player by teaching him proper tackling technique, positioning and play-calling.
Then, there are coaches that will give a kidney for their players – literally.
On Sept. 15, Whitehall varsity defensive coordinator Neil Hughes entered the hospital along with Clinton Brown, a former member of the Railroaders who was in need of a kidney transplant.
“I am very pumped up for this,” said Hughes. “This is something that ranks right up their in terms of things that I have been able to do, probably other than the birth of my kids and marrying my wife.”
Brown was diagnosed with IgA Nephropathy about two years ago, a kidney disorder that occurs when a protein that helps the body fight infections settles in the kidneys. It was during his junior year of high school.
“I was diagnosed in late December, early January of 2008 with IgA,” Brown said. “I knew then that I would have to get a transplant, eventually.”
Brown played for Hughes during his senior season with Whitehall in 2008, the first year that Hughes was a coach.
“The kid had a lot of heart,” said Hughes. “He always worked as hard as he could and at first, I didn’t know that there was something wrong with his kidneys.”
“I thought that he was a good coach,” said Brown. “We got along well and I started doing things with him after the season was over.”
Hughes said that the first time he knew of anything wrong was when he got a call from Brown – who was at the hospital.
“He had pushed himself really hard one week and he ended up in Burlington for three weeks,” said Hughes. “He called me to tell me that he was upset that he was not going to be able to play in the next game and it hit me pretty hard. You feel helpless, and I think that is where the relationship started.”
The player-coach relationship soon became a friendship, and the two often talked to each other and did things together as Brown finished his senior year and started working.
“He would have gotten his first buck with me if he hadn’t been late to the stand,” joked Hughes.
“We split wood together and do a lot of things together,” said Brown.
Hughes said that all the while, he would “joke” about giving up a kidney.
“I think it was a little bit of a joke at first, but I always said that I would help him for two years,” said Hughes. “I think I started thinking about it more when we found out that his mother’s kidney was too small for a transplant.”
Earlier this year, Brown went in for routine testing, and said that the news was not good.
“They did the blood work in the morning and my mom called me and said that my numbers sucked,” said Brown. “I was down to about 12-percent use, and I was like, whoa. I went out fishing that day and on the way home, I saw that Neil’s car was in the driveway at his house so I gave him a call.”
“When he called, he sounded exhausted,” said Hughes. “He said he was down to 12-percent use. I asked him what his blood type was and he said O-negative. That’s when I said that I’ll give you my kidney.”
Hughes said that Brown was hesitant at first.
“He wanted to make sure it was my decision, and that I was thinking it through,” said Hughes. “I wanted to help.”
Hughes said that he went to do blood work to see if he was a donor match for Brown.
“I was out working and my wife came out of the house saying, ’you gotta hear this,’” said Hughes. “She had me talk to the doctor who said I was a four-out of-six match. Amy closer, we would have to have been related.”
Hughes traveled to the Dartmouth Medical Center several more times over the next few months, taking more tests and preparing for the operation.
“The series of tests were incredible,” said Hughes. “I’m not nervous at all about it. I have been through surgeries before.”