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Jarvis cheats death, reigns king of transplant family’s gold haul at national games
First of a two-part series on Farragut athletes’ success at the U.S. Transplant Games


If ever a person symbolized the semi-annual U.S. Transplant Games, it would be Farragut’s Billy Jarvis.

Jarvis, one of six family members who have endured kidney failure leading to a transplant, has bounced back from near death in 1991 to win 15 U.S. Transplant Games medals — about half of which are gold — entering this year’s games.

Those games are currently underway in Minneapolis, Minn. where more than 10,000 participants were expected.

While his health and athletic pursuits have centered on his kidney transplant experience, so too does his occupation. After working for the National Kidney Foundation of East Tennessee for three years, Jarvis moved to Farragut in 2000 and became a senior educator for Tennessee Donor Services.


“Our whole family kind of lives the transplant life,” Jarvis said. His wife, Rebecca, is a transplant coordinator at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and a former dialysis nurse.

“My mom(the late Brenda Jarvis) and her brother and her sister all had kidney failure in their thirties,” Jarvis said. “It’s a hereditary disease in my family called alports. Basically it just destroys the filtering process in the kidneys … then there’s really nothing you can do about it. Usually it hits in your mid-twenties, late-twenties. But due to using Advil and some ibuprofen due to athletic injuries I had, it kind of caused mine to fail early, unfortunately.”

A 1987 graduate of Ooltewah High School where he was a three-sport athlete (baseball, football and basketball) and an All-district honoree in baseball, “I had planned on coming up here to walk-on for the baseball team at UT,” Jarvis said.

But then his kidney problems started as a UT freshman in the late summer and early fall of 1987.

“I just started to fatigue easily, my blood pressure was kind of increasing, had some nausea, vomiting,” Jarvis said. “By October I was feeling pretty poorly, so I went to the doctor and they took some tests and said I had maybe ten percent kidney function left and that was it. At that point I went to my father (Jim) who was going to be a living donor, but there was some complications at Vanderbilt (Medical Center) and it didn’t work.

“Unfortunately after that I was on dialysis for about three years,” Jarvis added. “I’d probably lost sixty pounds on dialysis and it caused my heart to enlarge. I was put on an emergency waiting list.”

Jarvis said he was near “death’s doorbed.”

“I probably had three months, tops,” he said. “I couldn’t walk really at all, and I was six-foot tall and probably one-hundred-and-twenty-pounds. For a twenty-one year-old kid that was really no life at all.”

A matching kidney was found just in the nick of time. “My kidney came from a young man in Mobile, Ala., seventeen years-old,” said Jarvis, who received his new kidney on May 6, 1991. “I was extremely lucky.”

In the months following the transplant, Jarvis said the recovery was slow “but I felt much better. At one point in time they thought my heart may have been bad just due to the enlargement, but basically just by the grace of God that didn’t happen. I haven’t been in the hospital since except for a sports-related injury.”

Jarvis returned to UT, and majoring in health and physical education he graduated in 1995.

He moved back to Chattanooga and coached at Ooltewah Middle School before coming back to Knoxville in 1997 with NKFET, “doing education and working with the patients on awareness type deals.”

GOING GOLD

Jarvis has teamed up with cousin and fellow transplant recipient Travis Fuller to win tennis gold medals in the last two Transplant Games open doubles division (2000 and 2002 in Orlando, Fla).

This Jarvis-Fuller tennis combination success even goes beyond the transplant games. “He and I are actually ranked in the top five in Tennessee in the three-five (upper intermediate) division,” Jarvis said. “We’ve done pretty well.”

And it’s not just tennis where Jarvis has enjoyed success in his three previous transplant games dating back to 1998. Having also won gold in the 400 and 800-meter runs at the 1998 games, Jarvis has been especially successful in basketball.

“We’ve won the three-on-three tournament the last two (transplant) games, my cousin (Fuller) and I and Mario Azevedo from Farragut, an FHS graduate,” Jarvis said of their gold medal efforts in the 30-to-40 age group.

This year in Minneapolis, Jarvis, 35, is competing in tennis doubles (open division) and singles (30 to 40 age division), three-on-three basketball (30-to-40) and will swim the final leg of a 200-meter individual medley relay (open).

GIVING BACK

As for his medals, “most of them I’ve given away ... Most of the time I try to give ’em to people who try hard and they’re not quite as healthy or athletic or active as I can be,” Jarvis said.

“It makes them feel better and it makes me feel better, too.”

One of those recipients was a transplant games teammate of Jarvis’ who died a few years ago.

“His mom asked me to speak at his funeral,” Jarvis said. “He was actually buried in his transplant games uniform, and I gave him one of my medals to wear.”

BEATING THE ODDS AS A DAD

Jarvis said he was told that becoming a biological father “was probably unlikely due to the medications for rejection and things of that nature.”

But this athletic fighter beat the odds, and sons Alex, 8, and Brendan, 5, are the result.



Next week, read about 12-year-old Wesley Rogers’ trials and triumphs.

 

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