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Decades after the battle for his life, a Columbia man shares his story

 Don Gordon
Jada Kirkland
SC Public Radio
Author Don Gordon.

Imagine you are 36 years old and learn that your kidneys are failing. Then you discover your spouse is leaving you, taking with them $60,000 of your money, plus your dog dies.

These circumstances were a painful reality for author Don Gordon, a Columbia native still living in the area. His book "Snowball's Chance" details the complications he faced before and after getting a kidney transplant from his brother in 1983.

While therapeutic, Gordon says writing his story was difficult.

"It really took eight years because a lot of it was so emotional to me that I almost hated to open it back up and think about it," he says.

Kidney failure was not Gordon's first-time facing death. When he was five, he had several surgeries to fix a drainage issue that impacted his kidneys. Doctors warned that he would likely die before graduating high school. Knowing this gave Gordon a different perspective on life.

"I discovered early that there is no safety in life," he says, "that was a hidden gift because knowing there's no safety it freed me from the shackles of an illusion."

But 31 years later, Gordon was facing crisis again. His book tells of his many bad experiences with doctors during his transplant journey. For example, he says one doctor placed the wrong catheter inside him, despite Gordon insisting it was not the right one. Then after his transplant, he says he was given overdoses of Cyclosporine, an organ anti-rejection medication, although he expressed concerns about being over-medicated.

Responding to these experiences, he devised rules for dealing with the medical industry. He believes it is important for people to educate themselves and seek medical professionals with the most experience.

"I don't care if you're having a bypass or what, you got to go to the hospital and the doctor that does the most of those procedures in your area," he says.

But what kept Gordon through such hard times? It was faith, love, and lots of humor. He compares himself to the biblical story of Saul on the road to Damascus.

He says a vision from God helped him discover that doctors prescribed him too much medicine for his weight.

"That was one of those Aha moments that I had, and at that time I felt, you know, led by God," Gordon explains.

Another crucial part of his journey was his girlfriend, Debi, who came into his life shortly before his transplant.

In talking about her, Gordon says, "I don't think I would have survived had it not been for Debi, because you cannot underrate the value of love when you're wanting to stay alive."

Despite Gordon's fear and anxiety, he kept a sense of humor.

"Well, you know, I don't think that your survival rate is as good if you don't see things with kind of a humorous point of view," he says.

December will mark 40 years since Gordon's transplant, and he says life is good. After being told he wouldn't live very long, he says, "I'm amazed at the high quality of my life."

From his book, Gordon hopes to encourage people to follow their dreams.

He says to "think of what really, really matters to you and pursue it and don't let go of it. Be tenacious and finish the things that you start out."

Jada Kirkland was an ETV Endowment 2023 Summer Intern working with South Carolina Public Radio May-August 2023. She is a rising senior broadcast journalism major in the University of South Carolina Honors College and a native of Sumter. In school, Jada has served as vice president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a mentor for first-year students. During her free time, Jada enjoys writing poetry and taking photos.