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Former Football Teammates Share a Kidney

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Walls and Spring

Everson Walls sits with his friend and former teammate, Ron Spring, at a press conference at Medical City of Dallas Hospital. Courtesy of Medical City of Dallas Hospital. hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Medical City of Dallas Hospital.

Two former Dallas Cowboys football teammates are the first U.S. pro sports teammates to share an organ. Everson Walls donated a kidney to Ron Spring last week. Spring has suffered from type 2 diabetes for 16 years and had been on the transplant waiting list since 2004.


Last week, two former NFL players became the first professional sports teammates to undergo an organ donation and transplant. The teammates are Everson Walls and Ron Springs. Both play for the Dallas Cowboys. NPR's Wade Goodwyn has this report.

WADE GOODWYN: Two days after a major organ transplant, Ron Springs and Everson Walls sat in a hospital auditorium in front of a room packed with family, friends, teammates and news media. Sporting Everson Walls' kidney, Ron Springs was clearly glad to see everybody.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. RON SPRINGS (Former player, Dallas Cowboys): You know, I have some teammates here now. Guys that came to the league with Everson, Angelo, King, and Everson Walls, those are the guys that I would want to talk to the rookies.

GOODWYN: Their glory days ended long ago. But the two men and their families remain friends. But 15 years ago, Ron Springs developed diabetes and his once magnificent body slowly was devastated. Three years ago, his kidneys failed. The doctors amputated one foot, then some of his other toes. Springs' hands slowly curled into useless fist. Everson Walls watched his friend wither away.

Mr. EVERSON WALLS (Former Quarterback, Dallas Cowboys): We were hanging out a lot together. My wife was very concerned about him and I could tell that she was. Then I started to think that there's something that I could do. I couldn't just be around him every day and detach myself from the whole situation. So, you know, one day I just said that I'd try it. You know, I said I'd try.

GOODWYN: Walls had his wife's support, but his mother didn't want him to give one of his kidneys away. She was afraid. The two families kept it all quiet while Everson thought it through. As Walls tells it, a conversation between his mother and his former teammate helped move things along.

Mr. WALLS: Before Ron went in, something very powerful happened. He made a statement to my mother about how he wanted to thank her for having me, because with her having me, it saved him. And she deserves that. You know, I guess we're so emotional about it because, first of all, my stitches are hurting like hell right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WALLS: I got - I got gas all in my stomach.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GOODWYN: But underneath the smiling and the tears and the claps on the back, a deeper and troubling truth was sharing the stage. African-Americans are lagging far behind other ethnic groups when it comes to organ donation, and African-Americans are dying on dialysis because of it. Of all Americans needing a kidney transplant, a third are black. Ron Springs said he and his Cowboy teammate are going to try to change that.

Mr. SPRINGS: We're going to form a foundation. And we're going to - me and Everson - put together this foundation, and we're going to go out and seek as many donors as we can seek.

GOODWYN: The day after the kidney transplant, Everson Walls hobbled down the hall to see how Springs was doing with his kidney. In fact, Springs was feeling great.

Mr. SPRINGS: I felt so good yesterday I got nervous.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SPRINGS: Everson came down, he was feeling bad. I didn't say too much because I don't want him getting mad at me and look at me. Walls is my greatest friend right now and I have to deal with him for 30 more years. I know he's going to hold over me.

GOODWYN: Because of Everson Walls' courage and generosity, Ron Springs is likely to be around a lot longer to have it held over him.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.

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