College baseball: University of San Francisco pitcher Joey Carney donating part of liver to ailing mother
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Joey Carney finally made the decision for himself and told his parents they could no longer try to talk him out of it: As long as he was a match, he would donate part of his liver to his ailing mother and give her a better life. For the long haul.
Carney knew he had to do it, despite their reservations. And it just so happened when two uncles didn't work out as donors, he was the one in the family who did.
So, on Wednesday, the University of San Francisco pitcher and his mom, Paula, are set to check into the hospital together and wait for their respective transplant surgeries Thursday. She will receive his left lobe, or about 40 percent of his liver.
His own future aside, Carney tries to envision the gift he will give his mother.
"I try to think so," he said. "Last year was really tough."
Carney watched his mother deteriorate, so sick day after day. Paula suddenly became ill in March 2014 with end-stage liver disease. She has experienced every possible complication, from needing her stomach drained of 20 pounds of fluid every two weeks to confusion comas and numerous internal bleeds.
After pitching at Skyline College and weighing his options, the right-hander ultimately chose to live at home in Millbrae and made the Dons' roster as a walk-on. By late summer after about six weeks of recovery, Carney hopes to be back on his regular throwing program preparing for his senior college season.
"You just see it in her, she's not herself anymore, she's super sick. It's almost unbearable to watch, to see," he said. "Finally I just sat her down, sat my dad down, 'It's time, I'm going, I don't care what you guys say anymore, I'm going to get tested, I'm going through the process.'"
Carney underwent multiple scans and blood tests and was interviewed at length by a social worker making sure he knew what he was getting into. He cut out ibuprofen to keep his own liver functioning optimally.
When he needed emotional support, he had it right in the coaches' office at USF. From head coach Nino Giarratano to pitching coach Matt Hiserman and others.
Giarratano gave a kidney to his father Mickey nearly five years ago, and his dad is still going strong at 85. Hiserman survived a line drive as a player for the Dons six years ago that fractured his skull and could have killed him.
"Joey is a wonderful kid. We have the greatest amount of respect for him," Giarratano said. "He has the courage to give to his family and the team."
Thursday just so happens to be Giarratano's 54th birthday, too.
"They said it's a good-luck day," Paula said.
Carney tried attending New York's Siena College in 2015, but then returned home after a couple of weeks and took the year off. He has been a huge help to his mother and father, Dale, who runs a business. Paula insists they might not have survived last year without his help. Carney has a younger brother, 16-year-old Justin.
"It's mixed emotions. It's putting my son through a major operation. On the other hand it's trying to save my own life," Paula said. "He's remarkable. He's just a wonderful young man. He can make it on his baseball team as a walk-on and then become a closer at USF and get through the season knowing he's doing this for me. He was willing to give up his dream of playing D-I baseball to help me."
But Carney didn't have to once he landed at USF. He went 0-1 with a 4.70 ERA and converted all five of his save opportunities over 20 appearances and one start. Carney struck out 18 in 15 1/3 innings.
He looks forward to more baseball soon.
"I used baseball as my therapy almost, and it was probably the best thing I could have ever done," he said. "It was awesome. The way I scheduled it, as soon as baseball ends I go right into surgery. I did it purposely for two reasons because I want to come back as fast as possible and not miss any of the fall ball, and I don't want time to think about it, I just want to do it and get in and out."
Paula figures her son's grit on a mound might come in handy through this process.
"Someone was looking out for us," she said. "Everything worked out and fell into place. He's not letting on that he's nervous, kind of like when he gets on the mound."