McFadden back from the brink
Inspirational basketball coach Kenny McFadden is on a mission after receiving a kidney donation. Liam Hyslop reports
Kenny McFadden counts himself as one of the lucky ones. Many people might not feel like that after spending more than a year going to a hospital three times a week to hook yourself up to a dialysis machine for a four-and-a-half hours at a time.
But the charismatic American-born, Wellington basketball coach was fortunate to be given a new lease on life when the father of one of his New Zealand Basketball Academy players, Aaron Tait-Jones, donated one of his kidneys to him late last year.
The 58-year-old was suffering from polycystic kidney disease, a genetic disorder which requires regular dialysis until a suitable donor can be found.
He was diagnosed with the disease in August 2017 after being rushed to hospital several weeks before with acute respiratory failure.
McFadden knows how fortuitous it was that Tait-Jones was both a match and selfless enough to offer him his kidney – the average wait time for a person to receive a kidney donation in New Zealand is between two to five years, with some people waiting more than 10 years.
‘‘I’m a lucky man,’’ McFadden said.
‘‘Normally you’ve got a match and the match is normally a family member. You would never
think a Kiwi guy from halfway around the world could be a match, but the man upstairs was looking after me and everything fell into place and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.
‘‘There are a lot of other people looking for a donor, live or deceased, and I end up only have to wait less than a year to get back into business. I’m blessed.’’
With that blessing, McFadden has found renewed energy to dedicate to his craft.
While he never stopped coaching at his academy – he would be there from 6am-8am on dialysis days, go to the hospital from 8am-2pm and be back at trainings in the evening – the treatment slowed him down.
The new kidney means he no longer needs dialysis, but donated kidneys do have a limited lifespan, with most kidneys from live donors working well for 15 to 20 years.
It’s still a heck of a lot better than not having a transplant and McFadden plans to make the most of this second chance.
‘‘That incident really opened up my eyes to show that time is always ticking. You’ve got to do as much as you can with the time you’ve got here.
‘‘Now my motivation is to help as many kids as possible achieve their dreams. When I retired from basketball, my only goal was to help others.
‘‘At the end of the day, I just want to sit back and see how many people I helped get that scholarship, or possibly get a couple more players into the NBA. That’s my ultimate goal.’’
That starts back at his academy with another cohort of kids.
He’s excited about a number of teenagers he’s training, including Tait-Jones’ son, Aniwaniwa, and Tafara Gapare, who has just spent time in the United States with the NBA Global Academy.
At academy trainings, the name Steven Adams is never far from his lips.
His prized student has taken his game to another level this year in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder and is a constant example for the next generation of Kiwi NBA hopefuls. ‘‘He’s talked about on a regular basis. It’s easy.
‘‘It wasn’t as easy years ago because I used to talk about people from the States, like Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson, and for some kids it was farfetched.
‘‘They always figured they had the advantage because they were born in the United States, but now when you’ve got a homegrown Kiwi kid who came into this gym and put in the work and is successful, then it could happen for anybody else.’’
The biggest attribute he tried to instil in his players, which Adams has in abundance, is an appetite for hard work. ‘‘They’ve got to have that work ethic and what we try to do is establish that early. It’s not easy for young kids to get up that early, but anybody who gets up that early is prepared to put in that work.
‘‘You have to have a motivator to motivate them, but not only a motivator, but to give them the right techniques that are necessary.
‘‘What we try to do is not train like New Zealanders, but train like basketballers.
‘‘I know what it takes to make it to the NBA because we actually got one kid who went and done it. Steven did it here for four years straight. All we try to do is say ‘hey, if he can do it anybody else can do it’.’’
Kiwi NBA star Steven Adams with young fans at his Auckland training camp last year.