When former major league outfielder Dave Henderson needed a new kidney, he called his childhood friend Jack DuBeau.
“We went to Dos Palos High School together,” said DuBeau, a Fresno resident. “I was ready to donate my kidney, but because we weren’t a match, I was going to do it through a chain.”
In this way, DuBeau would donate his kidney to another person on the waitlist, and Henderson, who spent 14 seasons in the MLB, would move to the top of the waitlist to receive a kidney from the very next match.
But there was a problem. DuBeau occasionally gets kidney stones, and doctors wouldn’t leave him with just one kidney with the potential of renal failure should that remaining kidney quit functioning because of a stone.
That’s when DuBeau’s wife Sherri stepped up to the plate.
After waiting months while doctors tested other potential donors, Sherri was finally found to be a perfect match to donate directly to Henderson.
After more months of waiting out family emergencies and Henderson’s health complications, the transplant surgery finally happened on Oct. 26, 2015.
The match was unique because it debunked a lot of myths about organ transplants.
“He was African American, she’s obviously not; he was big, she’s not; she’s female, he’s male, the whole thing,” DuBeau said. “And yet, it worked. Post-surgery, his creatinine levels were off-the-charts good.”
The successful surgery promised to be a second chance at life for Henderson, who suffered from polycystic kidney disease, a hereditary disorder in which clusters of cysts develop in the kidneys.
The disorder did not prevent Henderson from having a successful career on the ball field.
Known as “Hendu,” he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners as the team’s first-ever pick and made his big league debut with the team in 1981. Over the course of his career, he also played for the Oakland Athletics, Boston Red Sox, Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants.
He’s known for hitting one of the most famous home runs in postseason history: the ninth-inning, two-out, two-strike homer that lifted the Red Sox to a Game 5 victory over the Angels in the 1986 American League Championship Series. The Red Sox won Games 6 and 7 to advance to the World Series.
Post-kidney surgery, Henderson recovered and was able to return to his other love — golf.
But on Dec. 27, 2015, just two months after the transplant, the famed ballplayer died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was 57.
“Just two days earlier he was out there hitting golf balls,” DuBeau said.
In memory of their friend, the DuBeaus are working to create a foundation that will raise money for kidney donors and recipients to help pay for their medical costs and transportation to and from appointments and surgeries.
In the meantime, the couple is helping the Fresno Nephrology Kidney Foundation with two upcoming sports-related fundraisers.
The third annual Kare for Kidney Race is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, beginning at the Mountain View Shelter in Woodward Park. The entry fee is $15 for runners 12 and under and $30 for ages 13 and up. Register at www.fresnonephrologykidneyfoundation.org.
Events include a 2-mile walk, a 5K run and a 10K run. A children’s race for kids 10 and under will be held as well.
A pirate-themed costume contest will be judged at 7:45 a.m. A raffle will be held at the end of the race; tickets cost $1 each. Race participants are automatically entered into a cash prize drawing.
The Fresno Nephrology Kidney Foundation will also hold a fundraising golf tournament Nov. 6 at River Park Golf Center. The Gift of Life Golf Classic will include special guests Hall of Fame coach Mike Watney, five-time PGA Tour winner Nick Watney, PGA Tour winner Derek Ernst and U.S. Amateur and NCAA champion Bryson DeChambeau.
The events will provide necessary funds for programs to support the awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease. The foundation assists patients and their families locally.
“The community need here is so great because we have a very large diabetic need, and it’s growing,” said Sherri DuBeau. “We have such a large population of people who have diabetes. It’s an epidemic. There are so many people here who have needs to get to and from doctors’ visits.”
The DuBeaus are also working to promote organ donation.
“We understand that not everybody is going to want to be a live donor,” Sherri said. “But we want people to sign up on the their driver’s licenses to be a donor.”
“When you’re dead, you’re dead, but you can help so many people to live even when you’re gone,” said Jack. “You’ll at least have a legacy.”
One person has the potential to save eight lives by donating their organs when they pass away, Sherri said.
Due to Henderson’s health problems, doctors couldn’t use his vital organs, but he was able to donate his corneas, Sherri said.
The pair said the most important part of registering as a donor is to tell your family about it.
“Make sure someone close to you knows that it is definitely your wishes,” Sherri said.
Kare for Kidney Race
When: 8 a.m. , Sat., Oct. 15
Where: Mountain View Shelter in Woodward Park