Pic: Carson & I @ the STROS game last year!
Ex-Horn Kainer focuses on organ-donor awareness
Carson Kainer always dreamed of winning world championships.
He fulfilled that dream earlier this month.
It didn’t come in the sport he loves, but the accomplishment came with a deeper meaning. Competing in the World Transplant Games had been on his radar since he received a kidney transplant in 2006, but baseball had taken up summer after summer. Until this summer, when he ventured to Göteborg, Sweden, to compete in the games for the first time.
Kainer helped the Texas Longhorns capture the College World Series in 2005, and he hoped to reach the major leagues one day. Two teammates from that national-championship team — Drew Stubbs and Taylor Teagarden — have made it to The Show, but Kainer’s dream of playing in the bigs ended in the spring of 2010, when the Cincinnati Reds released him.
At the tender age of 25, Kainer could have sunk into a deep depression, fully aware his days in pro baseball were finished, but the obstacles he had already overcome were much more mountainous than any loss of a playing gig. A childhood case of chicken pox took away the function of one of his kidneys, and while the other managed to get him to adulthood, a lengthy, quality-filled life would come only after the replacement of his sole kidney.
“The doctors told us when he was 2 years old that he would one day need a kidney transplant,” said his mother, Kristi. “Now all of these years later, we’re so blessed he’s doing well.”
Kainer’s last two college seasons were most difficult, even though his excellent numbers in his final season — a .364 batting average with 66 RBIs — earned him All-Big 12 recognition. He played through frequent bouts of anemia and illness brought on by a disease few teammates knew about. After the season ended, his longtime doctor, Eileen Brewer, told him his kidney function had dipped to 13 percent, meaning he needed a transplant to keep him off dialysis.
It turned out Ron Kainer was a perfect match. On Sept. 12, 2006, he awarded his then 21-year-old son with a gift much greater than a new sports car or a weekend in Las Vegas. Dr. Brewer told me that day at Texas Children’s Hospital that she hoped the kidney would serve Carson for 20 years plus. The surgery lasted seven hours, but the gratitude this son feels for his father will last a lifetime.
“My dad doesn’t like to make a big deal of it,” Carson Kainer said. “When I tell him that the two days that impacted my life the most are Sept. 12 and Father’s Day, he doesn’t say much, but it was true sacrifice.”
Kainer flew to Sweden last month with his wife of eight months, Lacey, and two other transplant recipients — 18-year-old Ryan Flores and 20-year-old Leslie Meigs, who also received kidneys from their fathers. The long flight provided plenty of time to talk, and the fact it was Father’s Day weekend added to their bond.
Flores, a freshman at Abilene Christian University, has no memory of receiving a kidney at 16 months of age so he respects Kainer even more. “He knew what was going on so it had to be tougher for him,” he said. “I look at Carson as a real role model.”
Flores also beat Stage IV lymphoma at age 5. His story inspired his parents to start the Children’s Kidney Foundation, which aids families who need financial assistance during medical crises. Kainer has signed on to assist the foundation, which holds an annual toy giveaway at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and a charity golf tournament at Spring’s Willow Creek Golf Club.
Meigs had meningococcal meningitis as an 8-year-old. She survived the disease, but her kidneys failed. Now 20, the University of St. Thomas sophomore is an advocate for vaccination and organ donor awareness.
The three hope to further advance the cause of donor awareness after their weekend in Sweden perfectly illustrated how the selfless act of organ donation can change many lives. More than 1,200 athletes from 51 countries participated in the World Transplant Games, including Kainer, who won a gold medal in the ball throw and teamed with Flores for a bronze in golf. Kainer also played volleyball.
“To see four to five thousand people come to the opening ceremonies was something, then watching those individuals compete after they went through heart, lung, liver and pancreas transplants was so inspiring,” Kainer said. “They got a second chance at life. Some of the people who won medals had the biggest smile on their face. Some had tears of joy, whether it was for a donor who had to pass away for them to receive that gift of life or for how thankful they were to that person’s family.”