Sacrificing for a friend and former teammate
By David E. Nathan
To use the vernacular of the sport that brought them together at Brandeis three decades ago and helped forge an everlasting bond, credit onetime Judges relief pitcher Bob Tenczar ’87 with a life-changing “save” for helping ailing former baseball teammate Bob Boutin ’87.
Two days before Thanksgiving, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Tenczar donated a kidney to Boutin, a Type 1 diabetic who was facing the miserable prospect of a life of dialysis without a new organ. Within hours of the twin surgeries, both Bobs were doing well, and doctors had essentially declared the procedure a “home run.”
“It’s a supreme sacrifice to make for a friend,” says Boutin, a standout second baseman, two-time Academic All-American and member of the Joseph M. Linsey Brandeis Athletics Hall of Fame. “For someone to do that for you, it’s truly humbling. Bob’s an incredible person.”
Tenczar and Boutin were close friends at Brandeis – as juniors, they were suitemates in Rosenthal with several other baseball players – but fell out of touch after Tenczar moved to the West Coast and they both started families. The two reconnected on social media in recent years, yet Tenczar was unaware that Boutin’s kidneys were failing until he read about his plight in a Department of Athletics e-newsletter last summer.
“I was shocked,” says Tenczar, a director of business planning at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash. “We had known in college that Bob was a diabetic, but we never saw any negative signs of that. When I read about the fundraiser for him and his medical situation, I was stunned.”
Through fundraiser organizer Peter Kaslauskas ’87, another former teammate, Tenczar contacted Boutin, who lives in Plymouth, Mass., and works as a private hitting instructor. The two began corresponding regularly.
Boutin’s best hopes for a good transplant match were his brother and sister. However, testing revealed that neither was compatible. Boutin was placed on an organ donor list, but was facing a lengthy wait for a new kidney. His kidneys were functioning at about five percent of their capacity. Dialysis seemed inevitable.
Tenczar felt helpless in his quest to support his friend. He and his family (wife Jennifer and their teenage sons) kept Boutin in their prayers, and their church prayed for his recovery. During one of Tenczar and Boutin’s many conversations over the summer, the Bobs realized they had the same blood type (B+), a key to a good match.
“The light bulb went off in my head immediately,” Tenczar says. “I didn’t say anything to Bob, but I did some research on the internet about what it meant to be an organ donor. In the end, I realized it was possible. I was a little hesitant and spoke to my wife, who gave her full support to the idea.”
Boutin was overwhelmed when Tenczar told him he planned to go through the battery of tests to determine whether he would be a suitable match.
“My first emotion was guilt: Was I truly deserving of that gift from someone?” Boutin says. “The next thing I felt was gratitude. I was amazed that he would make that kind of sacrifice.”
After some initial compatibility tests in Seattle, Tenczar flew to Mass. General for three days of more extensive evaluation in mid-September. During his stay, he visited with Boutin, the first time they had seen each other since the wedding of teammate Billy Mitchell ’87 in 1998.
“When I met Bob, it was clear that his health wasn’t great,” Tenczar remembers. “I couldn’t imagine what he was going through.”
A month later, Tenczar received word that he had been approved as a kidney donor. The procedure was scheduled for the morning of Nov. 26. Within hours, it was clear the transplant had been a success. The players’ wives, Jennifer and Laura, shuttled between their husbands’ recovery wards to monitor their progress.
“I was thrilled when I heard the kidney was functioning,” Tenczar recalls. “A transplant advocate came into my room and said, ‘I hear it’s quite a kidney. It started for Bob right away.’ ”
Tenczar visited Boutin in his room the next day, and could already see a big change in his friend’s condition. “I was absolutely overjoyed that his color was coming back and he looked so good,” Tenczar says. “I was yelling so loudly that they had to tell me to keep quiet.”
Tenczar left the hospital on Thanksgiving, a day before Boutin. Neither has suffered any complications since surgery. Now that his health has improved, Boutin will soon return to the pancreas transplant list. The wait for the organ should not be long.
Boutin is still astounded at the level of support he received from his Brandeis family during his medical crisis. Kaslauskas put together the fundraiser; former teammate Dwayne Follette ’84 and ex-Judges assistant coach Kevin O’Brien stepped in to work with Boutin’s hitting students while he was out; and dozens of other people visited or expressed their well wishes.
“The Brandeis community was amazing,” Boutin says. “They were all there for me.”
While Boutin may have received the most tangible benefit – a working kidney – Tenczar has also been positively affected by the experience.
“It’s a very fulfilling thing to do,” Tenczar says. “I feel better psychologically and emotionally from giving this gift to someone who is very deserving.”
Additionally, Tenczar reconnected with his Brandeis past. He heard from Coach Pete Varney, corresponded with many former Judges and received a visit from teammate Ron Russell ’85 in the hospital.
“This has stirred in me the realization of how much Brandeis means to me and how we had all drifted apart,” he says. “I definitely plan to re-engage with Brandeis.”