Every profile is like a snapshot, a collection of words that paint a verbal picture.
But what happens after a column gets published? The lives of my subjects aren’t frozen in time. They continue on.
While winding down late at night, these are the thoughts that scamper through my head. Did Bryson DeChambeau’s dad ever get a new kidney? What happened to the badminton player with the stubby fingers? And occasionally I get the same questions from readers.
Which prompted me to catch up with a few of the people I’ve written about during the past two years. Consider it a sports columnist’s version of spring cleaning.
Never miss a local story.
Gift of life takes a twist
Jon DeChambeau is the happy owner of a functioning kidney, which was the plan all along.
Mike Watney still has both of his, which wasn’t the plan at all.
Nevertheless, things have a way of working out.
When I met DeChambeau in April 2016, the father of PGA Tour pro Bryson DeChambeau was in dire need of a kidney transplant. And Watney, the former Fresno State men’s golf coach, had selflessly volunteered to donate one of his.
But that was until DeChambeau reunited with an old friend named Ron Bankofier, with whom he attended high school in Winnemucca, Nevada, and hadn’t seen in 27 years.
When Bankofier visited in November for a golf tournament organized by DeChambeau to benefit the Fresno Nephrology Kidney Foundation, the old friends discovered they shared the same O-positive blood type, making a direct donation possible. (By contrast, DeChambeau and Watney have different blood types. Watney would’ve donated his kidney to an unknown patient so that DeChambeau could move to the front of the recipient line.)
“Our blood tests were so close the doctor asked if we were related in some way,” DeChambeau said. “I said, ‘We’re both from Winnemucca. Does that count?’ ”
Ron tested out really close to me. It was like this was a direction someone else drove us to.
Bankofier volunteered to donate one of his healthy kidneys, and DeChambeau agreed. The 57-year-old underwent successful transplant surgery March 8 at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.
Two and a half weeks later, both donor and donee are resting comfortably at their respective homes.
“The kidney is working just fine, I’m making my own urine and cleaning out toxins, and my buddy is doing good, too,” DeChambeau said. “We talk every day.”
There was still one loose end to this story. DeChambeau had to call Watney and tell him, in essence, thanks but no thanks.
Upon hearing the news, Watney was actually a little relieved. While still eager to donate, in the intervening months he’d learned Richard Green, father-in-law to daughter Heidi, also had failing kidneys.
“Along the way I found out that Richard needs a kidney too – gosh, he’s part of the family,” Watney said. “This will work out for both Jon and Richard.”
It certainly will.
‘The good news is I’m still alive’
They gave him three to six months to live. But nearly three years after doctors told him he had brain cancer, Stephen Shelley is still alive and still smiling.
Longtime Fresno State football fans will remember Shelley as the receiver who caught a 91-yard touchdown pass in the 1989 California Raisin Bowl. Others know him as a counselor, coach and PE teacher at several area schools. He also guided three younger brothers to college football and his nephew, Greg Smith, to the NBA. (Smith currently plays in the Philippines.)
Mostly, though, he’s regarded as a sweet, caring, relentlessly positive role model.
“Bring some sun into the world every time I get up,” Shelley said.
Shelley’s world got turned upside down in June 2014 when a monthlong headache was found out to be a malignant tumor in the back of his head. The cancer remains in remission, multiple surgeries and rounds of chemo later, but Shelley continues to struggle with headaches, earaches, numbness and tingling on left side, nausea, balance issues, neck pain and memory loss.
“The good news is I’m still alive,” he said.
I’m trying to break records. I’m not going out anytime soon.
More bad news came Feb. 1, when Shelley lost his job as a student relations liaison for the Clovis Unified School District. He was never given a reason for the termination but suspects the absences he took for treatments and recovery added up.
Fortunately, Shelley is covered by wife Kenya’s medical benefits. Restless after spending so much time at home, he hopes to receive his doctor’s blessing to return to work in the fall.
“I want to work. I want to help kids. I want to smile. I want to encourage,” he said. “There’s only so many towels I can wash and fold.”
Still getting A’s, swatting obstacles
Whenever confronted by a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, my thoughts always turn to Pahoua Yang.
I met Yang last April at Sunnyside High, where she was a senior and played doubles on the Wildcats badminton team. At first, nothing about her seemed extraordinary. Then I took a close look at her hands.
Yang was born with symbrachydactyly, a rare condition that caused both her hands to be malformed. Instead of fully grown fingers, hers are little stubs called “nubbins.” Besides being amazed at how she gripped the racquet, I was taken in by her enthusiasm and joyful exuberance.
“She’s just a light that shines so brightly,” Sunnyside PE teacher Michele Pacheco told me at the time.
I know there are people like me who hide their conditions. They don’t have the same confidence. I want to inspire them.
I’m happy to report Yang continues to shine. After graduating from Sunnyside with a 4.24 GPA in the rigorous Doctors Academy program, she got accepted to UC Davis (my alma mater) and earned a scholarship that covers part of her tuition. She’s currently enjoying spring break back home in Fresno.
Sunnyside has 2,821 students. UC Davis has 29,557 undergraduates. So it’s been quite an adjustment. Nonetheless, Yang managed straight A’s during her first quarter as a biology major.
“I’m very proud of her,” said Xe Yang, Pahoua’s mom. “That’s what I tell everybody. She doesn’t let anything stop her.”
Home footing among the Timbers
Following a 4½-year European odyssey that took him from England to Germany to Norway to Bulgaria, Villyan Bijev finally found a home – in Portland.
When I wrote about Bijev, in December 2015, the 24-year-old professional soccer player was back home in Fresno and contemplating his next move. Four months later he signed with Portland Timbers 2 of the United Soccer League (feeder club of the MLS’s Portland Timbers) and wound up as a first-team all-league selection.
After scoring a team-high eight goals and leading the USL with 10 assists, Bijev returns to the T2 roster for the 2017 season, which kicked off Saturday.
Three of Bijev’s T2 teammates from 2016 signed contracts with the Timbers. If the Clovis North High product continues producing, his chance should come soon enough.
Who shot Day Day? Can’t say
Hardly a week goes by without thoughts about Deondre “Day Day” Howard, the beloved Edison High and Fresno City College athlete who was shot to death in August 2015 outside his mother’s northwest Fresno condo.
Wish I could tell you the police are making progress or close to an arrest. But to the great dismay of many, Day Day remains another victim of an unsolved homicide.