Donovan Wilson’s track teams have faced many uphill battles. None compares to what the 44-year-old Wilson faces as he fights stage 5 kidney disease.
The Lorain High School girls track and Longfellow Middle School boys basketball coach was diagnosed in the last week of 2013 after tests and surgery at Fairview Hospital.
“I was getting extremely tired all the time along with the tremors,” Wilson said. “I was shaking a lot and was swelling up very bad. I knew some of it was from working and coaching, but it was something much more serious.”
Doctors told Wilson that his kidneys are functioning at about 4 percent. He’s on medication but expects to be on dialysis within eight weeks. He’s on a list for a transplant.
He had surgery two weeks ago to prepare his arm for dialysis. It will take another six weeks before the arm is totally ready.
“The doctors had to put a port in my chest to help give me medications when I was in the hospital back in December,” Wilson said. “They took the port out after a month. As long as there aren’t any complications, I should be fine until they start dialysis.
“If there are any, they might temporarily have to put the port back in.”
Wilson has coached high school girls track for Lorain Schools since 1996. He coached Southview from 1996-2003 and 2006-10. He became the Lorain High girls coach in 2011 after Southview and Admiral King merged. Wilson left girls track in 2004-05 to be defensive line coach for the Oberlin College football team.
He was first diagnosed with kidney disease just over a year ago.
“The doctors have been keeping a close eye on it,” said Wilson, a 1988 Southview graduate. “It just has gotten worse.”
Wilson is on a medical leave of absence from teaching freshmen in the severe behavior program at the Lorain High Annex. He has been a teacher for 23 years. Wilson passed the coaching duties to Kelvin Jackson, who most recently coached Lorain boys in 2011 and Admiral King boys from 2008-10.
“I get tired very easily because I have a lot of bad blood in me and I’m very shaky,” Wilson said. “Nobody in my family has had this problem that I’m aware of so it doesn’t appear to run in my family.”
Wilson’s wife, mom, dad and sister offered to donate a kidney. He’s declined because he doesn’t want any of them to put their health at risk.
“The wait list (for a kidney transplant) in Ohio is five years unless there’s a family donor,” he said. “My medication that I’m on is difficult. Among things it makes me very forgetful.”
Wilson and his wife, Angela, have five children: Savannah, 24; Donovan, 22; Kier, 20; Seth, 11; and Luke, 7.
It’s a dramatic lifestyle change for Wilson, who has led Lorain City Schools girls track through its best stretch dating to the 1970s and ’80s when all three Lorain high schools (Southview, Admiral King and Lorain) had periods of high-level success.
The Titans were 2012 Division I state runner-up — a city-record finish. The Titans first set the girls standard in 2011 when they finished sixth.
The success didn’t happen overnight. Far from it.
Wilson and his staff endured many seasons before finding a winning formula.
Prior to 2007, the Saints were never higher than fifth at a conference meet. Southview had only one district finish higher than 10th (sixth in 1999) from the time Wilson took over in 1996 until 2007 when it finished eighth.
Since 2009, his teams have been no lower than fifth at regionals, including a title in 2012 and second in 2011.
The 2012 girls set county records in the 400-meter (46.83) and 1,600-meter (3:52.12) relays. In addition, Melody Farris set the county standard in the 300 hurdles (42.23).
Wilson played football and track for Southview. He was a special mention All-Ohio linebacker and also played fullback. He threw shot put and ran sprints for the track team. Wilson played linebacker for Morgan State.
“I’ve been trying to stay up with a lot of prayer and do what the doctors tell me,” Wilson said. “I’m down about 50 pounds since November. Naturally, my life’s very different. It’s stopped right now. I’m used to being very busy. Now I’m at home 90 percent of the time. I’m trying to adjust to my family and friends. It’s definitely a complicated situation. I’m just so used to the stress of coaching.
“The doctor says it’s just a matter of time that my kidneys totally give out. Once both kidneys go the next step will be dialysis until we get a donor.”
Wilson gets his share of visitors, including his coaching staff and athletes.
“We’ve always had a tight, family situation so the parents and kids have all been so very supportive,” Wilson said.