Mourning to have kidney surgery Friday

Originally Published: December 18, 2003
ESPN.com news services

TRENTON, N.J. -- Less than a month after retiring from the NBA with a kidney disease, former New Jersey Nets center Alonzo Mourning will undergo kidney transplant surgery Friday in New York, his agent said.

Alonzo Mourning
Mourning

Mourning will receive the kidney from an unidentified family member, agent Jeff Wechsler said Thursday. The former All-Star had received dozens of offers from prospective donors around the country following the announcement last month that he needed a transplant.

"Alonzo will receive his kidney from a family member and wants to thank all those who offered to donate a kidney to him for their generosity," Wechsler said in a prepared statement. "He appreciates all the well wishes and encouragement he's received from fans all around the world and asks that the public respect his privacy at this time."

Mourning's wife, Tracy, said her husband was in good spirits.

"Alonzo's great," she said at an Alonzo Mourning Charities benefit for New York City children. "Faith gets you through all, and we have a great deal of faith."

Mourning, 33, announced his retirement from the Nets on Nov. 24 because of complications from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis. He was diagnosed with the disease before the 2000-01 NBA season when he was with the Miami Heat.

"It's unfortunate but, trust me, things could be a whole lot worse," Mourning said at the time of his retirement. "I want to live 50 more years. I'm 33 years old ... and I want to live to at least be 80 and see my kids grow up and see my grandkids. That's important to me."

Mourning missed the first 69 games of that season, but played the full 2001-02 season, averaging 15.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. He missed all of last season. He played in 12 games this season for the Nets, averaging 8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 17.9 minutes.

In a 12-year career, the former Georgetown star was a seven-time NBA All-Star and two-time NBA defensive player of the year.

Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, known as FSGS, affects the filters of the kidney that remove toxins from the blood. It frequently does not produce symptoms and can only be diagnosed through a kidney biopsy.

In the weeks before his retirement, tests showed that Mourning's kidney function had deteriorated and that the chemical imbalances in his blood made it dangerous for him to continue playing.

There is no single cause of FSGS, but factors such as hypertension, extreme obesity, intravenous drug abuse and HIV have been associated with the disease.

The disease strikes mostly children and young adults, and predominantly blacks, said Gregory Perrin, director of marketing and development for the Kidney and Urology Foundation.

According to Dr. Ira Greifer, a professor of pediatric nephrology at Montefiore Medical Center in New York and the president of the Kidney and Urology Foundation, about 20 percent of patients who receive a transplant suffer a recurrence of FSGS.

Mourning's open discussion of his plight is credited with focusing attention on FSGS, a rare and incurable illness that was considered untreatable as recently as 15 years ago. More than 1,500 requests for information about kidney disease and organ donation have been received by the Kidney and Urology Foundation since Mourning's retirement announcement, according to foundation spokesman Barry Baum.

Former San Antonio Spur Sean Elliott, who underwent kidney transplant surgery in 1999 and made an NBA comeback, told the Miami Herald that it is possible Mourning could feel good enough to attempt a comeback himself -- but only if he is completely healthy.

"I'm sure it's going to cross his mind," Elliott told Herald. "I definitely wanted to play, but I wanted to make sure I was 100 percent healthy before I even thought about it. And I'm sure he's going to do the same thing and make sure he's healthy."

Though Elliott suggested Mourning should immediately feel better after the transplant, there is a chance the center's 6-foot-10, 260-pound body could reject the new kidney. "The recovery part was amazing for me," Elliott said. "After I got out of [intensive care], I had so much energy it was like someone turned a light on. My biggest obstacle was trying to control the activity.

"I wanted to get going. Two weeks out of the hospital I was walking up stairs at a good rate."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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