During a call from his father last fall, Clemson sophomore lefthander Matthew Crowner learned that, after functioning at about 20 percent for a couple of years, his mother’s kidneys were in a dire state.
“It was a shock,” said Crownover, Clemson’s starting pitcher Friday in the opening game of the NCAA regional at Vanderbilt. “She’s been dealing with it her whole life. She never let anybody know how tired she was or anything. She would get a shot once a month, and she was OK.”
Diagnosed during college with Berger’s disease, Susan Crownover had maintained a relatively normal life. Berger’s occurs when an antibody lodges in the kidneys and taxes their efficiency as a filter. According to the Mayo Clinic website, the condition progresses slowly and the course is uncertain. Some achieve complete remission. Others develop end-stage kidney failure.
“It’s just one of those things that you’ve got to live with,” Susan Crownover said. “You’ve got to move on and make the best of it.”
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“Normal” for her meant juggling responsibilities as wife to David Crownover, assistant baseball coach at Ringgold High in her hometown in North Georgia, as mother to Matthew and Kelby and as teacher and coach at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“Last year it got exhausting, I’ll have to admit,” she said.
Doctors at Emory Hospital in Atlanta estimated her kidneys are functioning at less than 10 percent. This week, she had her first dialysis treatment, a procedure she can administer herself and allows for the flexibility for treatment.
“She’s a trooper, working every day,” Matthew Crownover said. “You can only imagine what it can do to your body, just the stress.”
Giving up coaching and teaching won’t be an option as long as Susan Crownover can tote her kit, which makes its first road trip this week to see her son pitch.
“She has that vibe of being a strong woman,” Matthew Crownover said. “I do worry about her. You pray everyday that somebody will be a match for a kidney donation.”
Lessons his parents taught him, working to control only the things within your grasp, have paid off this season for Crownover. Teaming with Daniel Gossett to give Clemson one of the best 1-2 punches in the college game, Crownover led the team with eight wins.
Figuring the left-hander was a better match in Friday’s game against Oregon, Clemson coach Jack Leggett is using one of the team’s toughest competitors.
“He does not want to relinquish the ball,” Leggett said. “The last time I took him out of a game. I remember saying, ‘He’s not going to like this.’ ”
Leggett hasn’t been surprised by Crownover’s ability to manage baseball and school as his mother’s condition worsened, but until recently the family has maintained a low profile.
“It’s not an easy situation, but he handles it really well,” Leggett said. “He’s a very mature young man. He’s got a lot of confidence in his mother’s toughness.”
When her need for a transplant became common knowledge, people – many she doesn’t know – began offering to be tested. Her brother and sister are not matches but, she said, have offered to volunteer for the national pair program in which they would exchange a kidney for one from a compatible donor.
“It’s amazing what people are willing to do,” she said.
Because she was diagnosed in her early 20s, Susan Crownover does not want Matthew and Kelby tested. The Mayo site said the disease can go undetected for decades and there are indications it might be passed genetically. The average wait for a kidney donor can range from four to 10 years. Dialysis could prolong her life about nine years.
“Not yet,” she said. “I told them, it’s too early. They still could be in the same shape I’m in. They can’t say that my disease is hereditary, but it’s too big of a chance for them yet. They’re just too young. They got a lot going on. They’ve got a lot to accomplish.
“We’ll go this route of dialysis for as long as we can, and we’ll try others who can be donors,” she said. “We’re not in desperate times yet.”
As he has done all season, Matthew Crownover carries that to the mound with him in Nashville, Tenn., today.