Kyle Carter had been practicing his pitch for days, winding up and hurling a baseball down the driveway to his dad.
On Tuesday, the 13-year-old put that practice to good use by tossing out the first pitch of the game between the Greenville Drive and the Lexington Legends marking Donate Life Night.
Born on St Patrick's Day in 1997 with a diseased bile duct, the Greenville boy underwent a successful liver transplant when he was five months old, says his father, Greg Carter. And by his appearance at the game, he provided fans with a living example of the benefits of organ donation.
“He's out there because somebody else made a life-changing decision,” Carter said. “This is going to visually give the message that there is a reason for organ donation.”
Every 11 minutes another person is added to the transplant waiting list in the United States, and 18 of them die waiting each day, said Mark Johnson, spokesman for Donate Life South Carolina, the state's organ procurement agency.
Nationwide, more than 107,000 people — nearly 1,000 in South Carolina — are waiting for an organ, he said. In fact, 239 children 17 and younger are awaiting a liver like Kyle.
Doctors discovered Kyle's condition when he became jaundiced soon after he was born, his father says. His eyes and skin turned terribly yellow and his belly was distended. He wasn't developing normally.
When an attempt to correct the bile duct failed, a transplant became the only option for the 3-month-old infant.
To give him the best chance for survival, his mother, Tara, researched transplant centers and he wound up at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, where in August, he was given the liver of a little girl who'd died in a wreck.
“It's hard to describe your thoughts and prayers for an organ, knowing that for that to happen, another life is lost,” Greg Carter said. “It's a very difficult prayer to ask.”
The Carters met the donor family after sending them a letter of thanks. In honor of their gift, Kyle's 7-year-old sister, Kelli Anne, is named for their daughter.
Since the transplant, Kyle has continued to grow and develop like any other child, except he takes anti-rejection medicine twice a day and is monitored regularly by his doctors.
“We are very blessed,” said Carter, who works in commercial real estate. “We were able to carry on without too many interruptions.
Kyle, who considers his own transplant a “miracle,” was among other organ recipients, donor families, medical professionals and advocates at Donate Life Night. The event is designed to raise awareness about registering to become an organ donor.
“There are so many people who…might not be here without organ donation,” said Greg Carter. “It's easier on your family and loved ones if you make that decision ahead of time. Then they don't have to deal with that at a very difficult time of grieving.”
A student at Southside Christian School, Kyle plays shortstop with the Palmetto Express, a tournament team in Greenville, and is a Boston Red Sox fan who hopes to play in the majors some day.