STEUBENVILLE - Kenny Davis Jr. was 19 years old and living his dream when he hurt his back while playing football nine years ago.
But his life changed drastically even more when he learned he needed a kidney transplant.
Today the 27-year-old city man is preparing to compete in the 2014 Transplant Games of America at Rice University in Houston while waiting for a second kidney transplant.
HEADING TO TRANSPLANT GAMES — Kenny Davis Jr. will participate in the 2014 Transplant Games of America next week. Davis, of Steubenville, is a kidney transplant recipient who now needs another kidney transplant. He posed for a photo in his family home flanked by his parents, Kenny Davis Sr. and Penny Davis of Steubenville. -- Dave Gossett
But, said Kenny Davis Jr., he is no longer just sitting and waiting for a phone call.
"I was attending Ohio Dominican, playing college football and thinking seriously about a career in law. I had hurt my back and was doing physical therapy but was still going to the games where I stood on the sidelines. I noticed my legs were swelling up and I was aching a lot. I came home for a weekend to see my younger brother play football for Catholic Central, and my parents made an appointment with our family doctor who ran some tests. He then sent me to a kidney specialist," related Kenny Davis Jr.
"The kidney doctor told me I was in the early stages of a kidney disease. It was pretty devastating news. I was 19 years old and never thought I would hear anything like that. I started thinking I would have to grow up and put my life on hold. The specialist told me there was no cure for the disease but there were different types of treatments. One year later the doctor told me my kidneys were functioning at 10 percent and I needed a transplant. The disease caused the kidneys to shrink and harden and turn into scar tissue," Kenny Davis Jr. explained.
"I'll be honest. I was scared. I never knew anyone who had gone through this. I didn't know how anything about dialysis or how it worked. It was a lot to handle. I had turned 21 in September and by January I was getting a kidney transplant," related Kenny Davis Jr.
His parents, brother and sister as well as two uncles were tested for compatibility, and his mother was a match for the transplant.
"There was nothing to think about. He is my son. I felt I had to do it to help him. I wasn't scared at all. It was about helping my son," shared Penny Davis.
She would remain in a Pittsburgh hospital for a week, but Kenny Davis Jr. stayed for a month because of a medical issue.
Then in 2010 Kenny Davis Jr. had to have an ankle operation that required a plate and screws and he soon started having poor kidney function numbers.
"I went to the Ohio State University Medical Center and they determined an infection was causing my body to reject the new kidney. So I went back on dialysis here in Steubenville. I am at DCI in the Kmart Plaza Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for nearly four hours each time. There are 12 beds in the room and I am usually the youngest person in the room. It is hard to go there because I have seen people come and go over time. They pass away. When I go I just sit back and put my headphones on and when I am done, I leave," he said.
Kenny Davis Sr. said his son often would see two longtime family friends at dialysis who inspired his son.
"Mike Carapellotti and Frank Marcino both went through dialysis and they have both passed away. But their strength has helped my son to remain strong and to not give up. Mike lay on the bed next to my son and would talk to Kenny. I hope their families know how important those two men were to my son," Kenny Davis Sr. said.
"A year ago UPMC called me and said they may have a kidney for me. My family and I were there for 13 and a half hours, but the doctors said they didn't like what they saw in the donor kidney and finally sent me home. I later received a second call and was told to stand by but they didn't call back. At that point I was usually sitting on the couch waiting for the phone to ring. I have a good family and good friends supporting me and my nieces keep me down to earth. But I wasn't doing anything other than waiting," he noted.
"I learned about Transplant Games of America in 2012 but it was too late for me to participate. The games are for anyone who has received an organ donation or is a living organ or tissue donor. I had been on the Catholic Central track team and had thrown the shot put and disc, and I started doing some research into the games. I talked to the Central track coach who asked me to help with the team and teach the kids how to throw the shot put and disc. Then I started training for the 2014 games, doing some weight lifting and working out with the high school kids. I found out coaching is my biggest enjoyment," he said.
"I learned through this experience some people get depressed and go into a dark place. Some people can't cope with the need for a transplant and waiting for the phone call. They stop taking care of themselves. Preparing for these games and getting involved with the Central track team has made a difference for me. I am taking classes at Eastern Gateway Community College and I want to eventually work on a college football coaching staff. I want to be the person who helps kids. I want to make a difference," he remarked.
"I am not always the easiest person to be around. I have my bad days. But this has all changed my life again for the better. I know I will get the phone call about a kidney transplant but I am no longer just sitting and waiting. I want to help other people in any way I can," he said.
"He has changed," said his father. "He has never said, 'why me?' It is exciting for my wife and I to see our son get back into his life again. I often asked myself if my son would grow to be an old man. And now he is focused on helping others. He is going to church again. His attitude is perfect and he has a new life again. I am proud of my son because for some reason he has found his way back. The coaching job is huge for him. I don't care if he wins at these games. For the past four years our son has been waiting for a phone call from the hospital. Now he is living his life again. Still waiting but doing so much more," stated Kenny Davis Sr.
"My future brother-in-law Anthony 'Toby" Longo is studying to be a strength training coach and he comes to our house every day to help me stretch. My parents and I am going to Houston Sunday and my goal is to win. And I will still be waiting for a phone call to go to the hospital in Pittsburgh for a transplant, but I am also living my life," said Kenny Davis Jr.