The Bond Between Grandfather, Father and Son
Kyle Van Hook is a baseball lifer who helped save the life of his grandson, a miracle by the name of Briscoe.
Clay Van Hook is following his father's footsteps, and thanks to his father, Briscoe's footsteps now follow Clay's.
Kyle coached at Blinn College and San Jacinto College (as an assistant), then served as a longtime scout for the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians.
Clay joined the Oklahoma baseball staff as an assistant coach in July 2017. He heads the Sooners' offensive game plan, works with the infielders, coaches third base on game days and serves as recruiting coordinator.
Clay was a standout quarterback at Brenham (Texas) High School, played baseball for one season at Navarro College, became a three-year letterman at the University of Texas (2005-07), earned second-team All-Big 12 and was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the major league draft. He played for OU coach Skip Johnson at both Navarro College (2004) and Texas (2007) and earned his degree at Texas in 2008 while serving one season as a student-coach with the Longhorns.
A member of the 2005 national championship team at Texas, Clay met his future wife, Selina, there while she was a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Upon the couple's engagement, Kyle coached up his soon-to-be daughter-in-law. “His dad sat me down and he said, ‘Hey, you have to understand this is a year-round job. Are you ready for this?'” Selina recalled.
Clay and Selina married in 2010 and two years later had their first child in daughter, Avery.
After a three-year stint as an assistant coach at McNeese State (2009-11), Clay spent six seasons as an assistant at Rice (2012-17).
Rice plays its home games at Reckling Park near the Texas Medical Center, just 1.6 miles away. While coaching third base for the Owls, Clay couldn't help but think of his newborn son lying helplessly inside a hospital that was visible over the outfield wall.
“It was really hard ... knowing beyond centerfield, that's where Briscoe is,” Clay said. “And it was a lot tougher, I know, on my wife and on my family.”
Deeply religious, Clay soon realized why he was where he was. “I know now that God put us at Rice in Houston for a reason, to be around the best renal doctors in the world,” Clay said.
Selina was 20 weeks pregnant when she and Clay went in for an ultrasound. For a few minutes, they wrapped themselves in peace and joy.
“Then the doctor came in and listed everything under the sun that was wrong with Briscoe,” Selina said. “It was a gut shot. We had about five minutes of pure excitement. We had already texted people. ‘It's a boy. How exciting.' Then we were in shock.”
Clay said, “You don't expect that going into an ultrasound. You go from the ultimate high to what you feel like is the ultimate low.”
There had been no birth complications with Avery. “Avery was completely healthy,” Selina said. “She acts normal. She has all the sass of a 6-year-old in kindergarten.”
Briscoe's circumstances, however, were the great unknown.
“We were trying to stay strong, not cry, during all this,” Selina said. “It took like three weeks for those (amniocentesis) tests to come back. You get this news. You don't really know what it is. You don't know how bad it's going to get.”
Briscoe had renal dysplasia, a condition in which clusters of cysts develop inside the kidneys, causing them to enlarge and lose function over time.
His kidneys were small and highlighted. His bladder was shaped like a telescope. There was a chance he was going to have club feet, that a cleft palate potentially could extend all the way up to his forehead. Would he have a nose and ears?
There was no telling what Briscoe's condition might be at birth. “They have to tell you the extreme (worst-case scenarios),” Selina explained. “There were multiple times (doctors) asked me if I wanted to abort the baby. They were just doing their jobs. I said, ‘We're in this for the long haul. Don't ask me again. I'm not doing that. We're going to give him a chance.'”
Selina endured ultrasounds every morning and was required to drink at least two gallons of water per day to keep her fluids up.
Despite Selina having “zero amniotic fluid left,” Briscoe made it nearly to full-term – 37 weeks, 3 days (technically “early term”). Selina stayed at the hospital for six weeks before Briscoe's birth. Her only break was for three days when, “Miraculously, there was fluid,” and she was permitted to go home.
“Pappy called and said, ‘It's me. We're a match. It's going to happen,'”
- Selina Van Hook
To help distract their minds on delivery day, Selina and Clay watched the final television episode of “The Office.”
Selina estimates there were 20-30 medical staff members in the delivery room when showtime arrived for Briscoe.
“We were waiting (and wondering),” Selina said. “Is he going to cry? Are his lungs developed enough? Is he going to be breathing? Those things you just assume happen we were hoping they were going to happen. Then (Briscoe) cried and Clay and I just started bawling. I was like, ‘Count his toes.' He has 10 toes. His feet are great.”
Briscoe's length and weight were solid, which helped expedite his dialysis treatment. “He looked fine, but internally, he was just a hot mess,” Selina said. Briscoe was six days old when his dialysis catheter was inserted. He started dialysis at 13 days old.
There were complications along the way. Briscoe was septic two days before Christmas. Drains were inserted into his kidneys, abdomen and stomach. “He's just such a fighter,” Selina said.
Because Briscoe was too tiny for a dialysis machine, his hourly treatments had to be done manually by a nurse. Briscoe remained in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for 46 after his birth.
Briscoe eventually became big enough for the machine. Avery, after more than three months of waiting, finally got to meet her baby brother on March 28. He was discharged the day after Mother's Day and attended his first baseball game on May 14.
Dialysis treatments at home continued until the following year. Then came the wait. The wait for a donor, the wait for the transplant, the wait for the weight.
Briscoe had to be big enough and strong enough for his body to be able to accept an adult kidney. “You need to have an adult kidney (as the donor organ) because they stop growing once they're removed,” Selina explained.
Selina was the first to volunteer to donate one of her kidneys, but she immediately was denied. “They (doctors) said, ‘Who's going to take care of Briscoe? You can't carry anything over 10 pounds for weeks (if you're the donor),'” Selina said.
Finding a qualified donor can take months, and only one person can be tested at a time.
Clay batted leadoff to help save his son, but he was not a blood match.
Kyle, aka “Pappy,” was the next relative to take a swing at it. Although he was 61 years old at the time, Kyle oozed confidence.
“Right from the get-go, he was like, ‘He's going to take my kidney,'” Clay said of his father. “He prayed on it every day that he could be the donor for Briscoe. I know there's no greater gift a grandfather can give to his grandchild than the gift of life.”
“Pappy called and said, ‘It's me. We're a match. It's going to happen,'” Selina said.
Before the transplant, Kyle jokingly shared his qualifications with sportswriter Richard Justice of mlb.com. “I run, I lift [weights],” Kyle said. “I keep my kidneys flushed with Bud Light. I've told them that Briscoe may ask for one when he wakes up.”
The transplant took place Aug. 16, 2017.
“All this sweat and tears and raw emotion,” Selina recalled of that day. “You finally get this opportunity, (but) will it take? Will he reject it? It was such a long day.”
One of Kyle's kidneys was removed at St. Luke's Health-Texas Medical Center and then transported next door to Texas Children's Hospital, where a 20-month-old Briscoe was waiting.
From Briscoe's birth in December 2015 through April 2017, Selina somehow found the time and strength to chronicle their family's journey on the website www.briscoevanhook.com as a platform for the importance of organ donation. T-shirts were made for Briscoe's much-anticipated transplant date bearing the inscription “YEAR OF THE BEAN” (as in kidney bean), available in sizes YS to AXXL. The kid had his own hashtag #briscoewilliam.
“My wife is a rock star,” Clay told mlb.com. “To be a coach's wife is difficult enough with all the travel and stuff. To be the mother of a child who needs constant surveillance is something you can't prepare for.”
“Your two best friends in the world. Your son and your dad.”
- Clay Van Hook
Kyle said of Selina: “She deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor. It's parenting times 10 ... I don't know too many people who could have done it. Clay is gone so much with coaching games, and she is amazing.”
The college baseball community and many mutual friends have rallied around the Van Hooks.
Carson Kainer, Clay's best friend at UT, shared his experience of having a transplant after his junior season in 2006 when his father, Ron, donated a kidney. After his surgery, Kainer was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 14th round and played in the minor leagues from 2006-10, becoming the first professional baseball player to play after an organ transplant.
In 2011, Wake Forest coach Tom Walter donated a kidney to one of his players, Kevin Jordan.
And in 2017, Kyle donated to Briscoe.
“It's almost like Briscoe knows there's a part of Pappy in him,” Clay said. “They're extremely close. They have so much fun together.”
Though born 60 years apart, Briscoe and Kyle were made for each other.
“Your two best friends in the world,” Clay said. “Your son and your dad.”