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October 9, 2013
Robert Kirby Steps Up for Ailing Sister
It's easy to say that we want to do something about a problem, another thing entirely to actually step up and take action.
That's not a problem for Memphis assistant coach Robert Kirby, who took dramatic action to insure that his sister, Virginia Kirk, would have a high quality of life.
Kirby, one of 12 siblings, volunteered to donate a kidney to his ailing sister. Virginia has been undergoing dialysis due to advanced stage kidney failure.
So about a month ago, Robert began the arduous process of becoming approved for a transplant. There's blood typing, tissue matching, and general health to consider. Surgeons pore through every detail of a potential donor's well being.
Kirby, who has kept himself in excellent shape and looks as if he could still play ball at the highest levels, turned out to be an ideal candidate to provide a kidney for his sister.
"Man, I've been through just about any kind of test imaginable," Kirby commented. "I've been poked, prodded and everything else. But the doctors were just doing their job, it's all part of the process."
Kirby has hit the ground running in his first year with the Tigers, taking over handling of the big men from head coach Josh Pastner. He won't be off the practice floor for too long, however.
"It actually works out perfectly that I'm a basketball coach," he noted. "The doctors want me back on my feet right away, to make sure I don't develop blood clots. I need to get out and walk a little bit every day any way. So by the time I get in the gym for practice for a couple of hours, it's time to get some rest.
"But I know my wife and daughters are gonna fight me about that."
Kirby underwent a laparoscopic procedure. This includes inserting a micro-camera, two tiny scalpels and a surgical clamp tool. All implements are inserted into the abdomen through minimal incisions, which of course shortens recovery time.
The kidney's appropriate renal artery, vein and ureter entering and leaving it are cut and clamped off. A long, internal incision is then made and the kidney is pulled down the abdomen toward the thigh. The organ is then pulled out through about a 5-inch crescent-shaped incision between the belly button and the groin.
The harvested kidney is then inserted into the abdominal cavity of the transplant recipient. The harvested ureter is attached directly to the bladder, and the renal artery and vein are sutured into place onto the large vessels in the area.
The diseased kidneys are not removed.
Dr. James Eason of the Methodist University transplant team, who performed liver transplant surgery on Steve Jobs in 2009, handled the operations.
Robert's part of the surgery took about three hours on Tuesday, from about 10:00 a.m. until just after 1:00 p.m. His sister Virginia's procedure began shortly thereafter and took over 4 hours.
Kirby was alert within hours. If there are no complications, he should be released on Thursday so he can recuperate at home. Virginia should be released over the weekend.
Kirby will be off his feet for a couple of days but will be back in action as soon as the pain will allow him. Don't expect him to be running up and down the floor for a couple of weeks but also don't expect him to be inactive.
"If I can't stand up for the whole practice," he says, "I can get my laptop out and do some work. I won't be at the gym as long as usual but there's still a lot I can do that won't stress my body out."
As for how important Kirby is to the program, his impact is already being seen in Shaquille Goodwin, who has been the most consistent Tiger in practice so far. The big man, who struggled as his freshman season drew to a close, is primed to have a huge second year. Goodwin is the perfect example of the axiom that Kirby quoted:
"The best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores."
Kirby himself is a freshman to this program, but he's the most seasoned coach on the Tiger staff by a long shot.
But to his sister Virginia, Robert Kirby is something altogether different.
To his sister, Robert Kirby is a hero.