Resilience: Faith, Focus, Triumph, the Alonzo Mourning autobiography

This is a moving excerpt of NBA star Alonzo Mourning’s new book “Resilience: Faith Focus, Triumph” with Dan Wetzel. Below is a heart-warming story of how Zo used his problem to touch one child's life.

"The kid wouldn’t eat. Not a bite. There was nothing his father could do. Doctors, nurses, and even fellow patients tried and got nowhere. For almost two weeks, no food. "I think he was giving up," said Brian Mossbarger of his ten-year- old son, Zach. Of all the setbacks in a lifetime of setbacks, this was the most crushing for the father to watch.

"And this from a dad who found Zach unresponsive at the tender age of three weeks old, rushed him to a small- town Ohio hospital, had doctors set up a medical helicopter to a bigger facility in Toledo, and was told, brutally, "Don’t expect him to survive the airlift."

"Zach did survive, but his was a difficult life. He was in and out of hospitals, doctor after doctor, treatment after treatment, surgery after surgery, infection after infection. One thing and then another; every solution brought a new problem.

"He suffered from chronic kidney failure, and by the age of eight the self- conscious boy had scars all over his body and two six- inch tubes coming out of his neck to serve as a temporary catheter; then, at nine, he started regular dialysis. The schoolkids were predictably cruel.

"Eventually doctors settled on a transplant. Brian, thirty- five, a tough machine repairman at an aluminum factory, was a perfect match. The transplant took place on Valentine’s Day, 2007, at the University of Michigan hospital. For nine days, the kidney worked. Then it didn’t. Vascular rejection, the doctors said; the worst possible kind.

"And so Zach stopped eating. Doctors had to tube- feed him. "He thought the transplant would be it for him," Brian said. "When it didn’t happen, he was really depressed."

"No one knew what to do, what to say. In a small- world way, they found someone who might. Brian’s older brother worked with a guy who knew another man whose mother, Shari Rochester, was Alonzo Mourning’s assistant. The story got to Shari and she told Alonzo, told him about the vascular rejection, about the not eating. Alonzo said, "I have to meet this kid."

"The Miami Heat were scheduled to play at the Detroit Pistons in a few days. Alonzo set it up so Zach, who hadn’t left the hospital in six weeks, and Brian could visit him at the game. A doctor came along, just in case.

"On April 1, outside the Detroit visitors’ locker room just before the game, they wheeled small, frail Zach in front of big, strong Alonzo, two transplant survivors, two kidney patients sharing a look of mutual understanding and respect. Then Alonzo knelt down and flexed one of his massive biceps at the awestruck kid.

"You want some of these, you’ve got to start eating," Alonzo said. "I had a transplant too, and look at me."

"They talked some more. Took pictures, signed autographs, and exchanged phone numbers. Then Zach got wheeled out to courtside seats and stunned everyone.

"He asked his dad for a hot dog.

“How do you thank a guy like that, who has no clue who you are but steps into your life and helps out, calls, prays, offers advice and hope? What can I say about him?”

"– Brian Mossbarger on Alonzo Mourning.

"A hot dog? Yes, the boy needed to eat, but something as nutritiously empty as a stadium hot dog? The doctor shrugged. "Go for it. It’s something." Brian got Zach a hot dog. Then a half hour later Zach asked for nachos. A large order, no less. Brian got Zach nachos.

"Back at the hospital everything seemed to change. The kid ate. The kid smiled. The kid started thinking positive. "He had been so down," Brian said. "Then it all changed."

"Three weeks later, doctors tested his creatinine level—the key stat for all kidney patients, where the lower the number the better. Zach had been hanging around a too- high 2.1. The test came in at 1.6, an incredible improvement. Unbelievable, really. So they tested again. The creatinine was 1.6. Again. Over a month after rejection, was this kidney finally working?

"Dumbfounded, the doctors huddled and decided to push the issue. They took Zach off dialysis, just to see. The next day he registered a 1.1. The next 0.8, normal for him. No one knew how it could have happened. Within days, Zach was out of the hospital.

"I’m not real religious," Brian said. "But one of the things Alonzo kept saying was ‘Pray for it and everything will come out the right way.’

"How do you thank a guy like that, who has no clue who you are but steps into your life and helps out, calls, prays, offers advice and hope? What can I say about him?"

"Brian said this from the side of a fishing hole in northwest Ohio, his old kidney going strong in his son’s body. Dusk was coming fast and father and son were having a long, carefree time. The ten- year- old boy looked like any ten- year- old boy, laughing and jumping around as he caught a bass.

"You just have to stay positive and believe and never lose hope," Brian said. "That’s what I’d tell other parents. That’s what Alonzo kept telling me."

"With that he went and unhooked his son’s fish."