Ex-PawSox broadcaster Steve Hyder awaiting call for kidney transplant

Life once revolved around sports for Hyder, the former radio voice of the Pawtucket Red Sox and Syracuse University basketball. Now, his days are centered on dialysis as he holds out hope for a life-saving transplant.

NEWPORT — Steve Hyder remembers with great fondness his inside look at the sports-media world.

He remembers 10 seasons of Big East Tournaments and big crowds at the Carrier Dome calling Syracuse University basketball on radio. He remembers the excitement bouncing around the city when the underdog Orange ran through the NCAA Tournament in 1996 before the dream died in the national championship game. He remembers, after his radio station’s contract wasn’t renewed, the shock when ever-caustic coach Jim Boeheim put his arm on his shoulder and thanked him for all he’d done for the program.

After his Orange tour, Hyder returned home to Rhode Island and teamed up with the Pawtucket Red Sox. He shared radio play-by-play duties with a conga line of partners who all moved on to the major leagues. He stayed behind and happily watched Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury and so many others mature from precocious minor leaguers into major-league millionaires.

His life was my life. Enjoying the games, interviewing the athletes, telling stories that fans want to hear and read.

That’s why Steve Hyder’s present situation stings so badly. Hyder, 57, is seriously ill with kidney disease, specifically, end-stage renal failure. He requires dialysis three days a week that saps the energy and strength of the man the Syracuse hoopsters once dubbed “Tut” because of his big, broad frame. He can live on dialysis for now, as he has for two years, but he needs a kidney transplant sooner rather than later.

“I didn’t realize it was as dire as it is,” Hyder said. “I had a lot of optimism at first that it wasn’t the worst-case scenario, but I do know that my kidneys are shutting down.”

This news opened my eyes to the chronic problems that kidney patients face every day. Nearly 103,000 people in the United States are currently on the national kidney transplant waiting list, according to the National Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. There are 276 Rhode Islanders on that list, but finding a match is difficult. Last year, only 63 kidney transplants were done in our state. Doctors say it’s a three- to five-year wait for a life-saving call, but anyone on dialysis for more than five years is risking their life.

“Dialysis is not a great substitute for a functioning kidney,” said Dr. Joseph Romanello, Hyder’s physician at South County Hospital. “It’s only enough to keep you going. It’s always preferred to have a living donor.”

Hyder hasn’t found that donor, but, like everyone else on the list, he’s forever hopeful. As he drifts to sleep each night and hears of a car crash or some other unfortunate accident on TV, his mind jumps to his own plight as he thinks, “I hope he donated his organs.”

Dialysis doesn’t regenerate a kidney. Only organ donors with a perfect blood match can save patients like Hyder, but not nearly enough people check the donation box when they register their cars and trucks at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Romanello says that in some European countries, “when you die in an accident, it’s assumed you are an organ donor. Here, we assume you are not.”

“The number of [needed] transplants keeps going up as the population ages, with the increase in obesity and the popularity of pain killers,” Romanello said. “The amount of kidney failures rises every year, but the amount of donors does not.”

Three days a week, Hyder drives from Newport to Wakefield, sits in a room with a dozen other patients and a staff he says he adores for its mix of humor and medical knowledge. For four hours he’ll watch TV, catch a nap and often think about a life that once revolved around sports, back when he threw the shot put as an All-Stater at Newport’s Rogers High School and in college for UMass.

Last week, Hyder said he was feeling good and wore a big smile when we met at a restaurant near Naval Station Newport. He says he’s lucky to have his parents nearby in Portsmouth, and a friend gave him a job this summer at Easton’s Beach and now at a local recreation center. But his life is centered on his three trips to dialysis every week. On those days, he carries an awful, almost crippling fatigue.

As he walked slowly to his car, it was hard not to think of a younger, stronger Steve Hyder. The one who traveled the International League with the PawSox, the one who Syracuse’s basketball players playfully nicknamed “Tut.”

“There are days when you know you’re not as bad as other people, but you still think, ‘This sucks. I didn’t sign up for this,’” he said. “I can handle it. I’m not going to fold up the tent and cry. But, like a lot of people, I know I need a kidney transplant.”

How to become a living organ donor

Rhode Island Hospital offers one of the largest transplant programs in New England. About half of the transplanted kidneys at the hospital come from living donors, according to the hospital’s website .

Transplants from live donors have a higher success rate, with a longer average survival of the kidney: 12 to 20 years from live donors, compared with seven to eight years for kidneys obtained from deceased donors.

Donors must be at least 18 years old, in excellent physical and psychological health, demonstrate a healthy motivation to donate a kidney, and be free of diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, cancer and chronic infection. Medical costs are covered by the recipient’s insurance.

Donors’ health should not change after surgery, as the remaining kidney enlarges to perform about 80 percent of the work that two kidneys normally do.

For more information, go to call (401) 444-8562 or (888) 444-0102.

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