There was no second-guessing for former Fresno State golf coach Mike Watney.
When he read an article in The Clovis Independent eight months ago that Jon DeChambeau, a former pro golfer and acquaintance, needed a kidney transplant, he immediately said, “Well, I’ll give him one of mine.”
“The article was good in that it explained that people have two kidneys and one can be donated. I probably wouldn’t have known,” Watney explained.
Watney knew DeChambeau’s youngest son, Bryson, who is one of the biggest names in golf. Last year he became the fifth person in history to win both the NCAA Division I Championship and the U.S. Amateur in the same year — something only accomplished by the greats:
“I want Jon to be able to go see that,” said Watney, whose nephew, Nick Watney, plays on the PGA Tour. “This last week Bryson played in Napa and Jon couldn’t go because he was getting dialysis. I want Jon to be able to enjoy that life because it is neat if you get that opportunity — and he does.”
DeChambeau’s kidneys failed in 2014 due to a decades-long battle with diabetes. He now has a port in his chest and receives three-times-a-week dialysis treatments.
“I’ve been on the transplant list for a kidney since March of 2013,” DeChambeau said. “They never tell you the number for the list, but when you push and prod just enough, [you learn] it’s in the thousands. They said it would be 5 to 7 years before I got a kidney.”
That will happen much sooner, however, because Watney has come forward to donate one of his.
Because the two donors don’t share a blood type and aren’t a match for a direct donation, the two will undergo a kidney swap with another patient and donor set.
One of Watney’s healthy kidneys will go to another person on the transplant list, and DeChambeau will receive a kidney from another live donor. The swap has to happen on the same day to prevent anyone from backing out of the procedure, DeChambeau said.
Watney and DeChambeau are both hopeful and anxious for that day to come.
“Coach and I won’t be in the same operating room, but we’ll get to have hallway dates,” DeChambeau said with a laugh. The surgery will be performed at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.
The transplant process has been long, the golfers said.
“Coach has gone through months of testing to make sure that he was capable of giving a kidney and having the quality of life that he wanted to have afterward,” DeChambeau said.
Watney underwent about 10 blood draws over two months and his health was meticulously analyzed to ensure that he was at very low risk of kidney problems in the future.
“I doubt if I would just offer a kidney to somebody I didn’t know. Family and friends — that’s what’s important,” Watney said. “I know there’s lots of people who need kidneys. I’ve been with him to dialysis and it’s a sad room.”
The two Clovis residents are partnering to help other dialysis patients through a fundraising golf tournament to be held Sunday, Nov. 6 and Monday, Nov. 7.
The public is invited to listen to speeches by Mike Watney, Bryson DeChambeau, five-time PGA Tour winner Nick Watney and PGA Tour winner Derek Ernst at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 at River Park Golf Course.
“The golf tournament is to raise funds for the association to let us have some money so we can do more education, so we can assist with some of the dialysis patients that have travel issues. They help right now with that and it’s a very expensive venture,” DeChambeau said.
Fresno Nephrology Kidney Foundation serves about 4,000 patients who are on dialysis for kidney failure, said foundation assistant May Cha.
Stories like that of DeChambeau and Watney are exactly what the foundation was hoping for when it was founded three years ago, Cha said.
“We wanted to be able to bring these individuals together to empower the patients and give them a voice and advocate on their behalf,” she said. “There are so many different patients impacted by kidney disease. We meet pediatric patients from Valley Children’s Hospital — babies who need kidney transplants. We have patients who have gone through 7 years of dialysis but aren’t a candidate for a transplant — they need services, they need help.”
The foundation aims to fill the void in the underserved Central Valley, providing necessary programs and services to support not only patients, but families of patients and caregivers, Cha said.
The agency promotes early screening and detection of kidney disease along with providing education about kidney donation.
For Watney, the choice was easy.
“I feel like God gave us two kidneys — gave us an extra,” Watney said. “And maybe it’s kind of a test to see where our heart is to help people.”
“He’s basically giving me the gift of life,” DeChambeau said.
The Gift of Life Golf Classic presented by Fresno Nephrology Kidney Foundation
What: Fundraising golf tournament to 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. Raffle, silent auction, on-course contests and awards dinner will also be held.
When: 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6 for meet-and-greet with PGA Tour players, golf clinic and festivities; public golf tournament Monday, Nov. 7.
Where: River Park Golf Center, 41445 Avenue 9, Fresno for Sunday activities; Dragonfly Golf Club at 43369 Avenue 12, Madera, for Monday tournament.
How much: Spectators are free on Sunday; entry fee for Monday golf tournament is $200.
Details: Jon DeChambeau, (559) 706-7715 or Tim Huber, (559) 871-6158