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November 23, 2014

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Gondo: ‘I’m goin for a walk’

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Glen Gondrezick, days after receiving a transplanted heart.

NOW:

During his long, long, long wait for a donor heart that he needed to survive, I'd sometimes drop by Glen Gondrezick's house, to drink his beer -- except his brewery-sized reserve of Coors, which was off-limits -- and get him to share funny anecdotes about Walt Frazier, his old New York Knicks teammate.

Then a couple of days later, he'd call and, disguising his voice, say Glen Gondrezick had passed away last night -- but that there was a six-pack of Bud Light in the garage refrigerator with my name on it.

I almost fell for it, at least the first three times.

Gondo would tell me if he didn't make it, he'd leave the garage door open, so I could claim the Bud Light. Leave the Coors alone, he said.

Last Wednesday, when we talked, he sounded like he wasn't going to make it. I told him I'd stop by Monday to drink that Bud Light.

I wanted to call him Monday, to tell him I was at his house, but that he forgot to leave the garage door open. And that some guys would do anything to get out of sharing their beer.

But after undergoing successful heart transplant surgery in Los Angeles on Saturday, I didn't think he would be up for the joke.

Boy, was I wrong.

I got off the phone with the UNLV basketball legend 15 minutes ago. He sounded fantastic. I couldn't believe it. He sounded like he was ready to play golf or something. He's not even taking painkillers.

More importantly, the despair I heard in his voice last week was gone. You wouldn't even know he had been sick, or that he had just had his sternum cracked open like a walnut. He had taken the Grim Reaper to the hoop and dunked right over him.

When he went under the knife -- and reciprocating saw -- his failing heart had nine percent of its original pumping capacity. When he opened his eyes, he had 50 percent.

"I don't know how to put it into words," he said.

Last Thursday night, he thought he was a goner. He was lightheaded, his blood pressure was off the charts, he had chest pains that would have dropped a moose. "I couldn't get off the couch," he said.

Now, he feels like he could beat his old pal Bill Walton in a game of one-on-one -- especially since Walton's knees are shot.

Gondo said he heard from one of his volleyball teammates from the 45-over league who told him there was a tournament coming up, and did he think he'd be ready to play.

But the highlight of his day was when the defibrillator in his chest started playing circus music. That means the battery is low. Last week, that would have been a cause for concern. Not anymore. The device is no longer connected. It no longer will go off for no reason, hitting him in the chest like one of Joe Frazier's left hooks.

This weekend, Gondo will check into a rehab center within walking distance of the UCLA Medical Center. He expects to be home for the start of the UNLV basketball season and resume his broadcast analyst duties.

Doctors told him he received "a perfect 40-year-old male heart." Gondo, who is 53, said he will be forever grateful to the person whose untimely death enabled him to live.

He already has spoken to the transplant coordinator about reaching out to the donor's family. It'll be up to the deceased's loved ones if they want to contact him. He sure hopes they will.

Gondo said he wanted to thank everybody in Las Vegas -- and elsewhere -- for their prayers and good wishes throughout his ordeal.

"I've heard from people in Walla Walla, Wash., and Dove Creek, Utah -- I have no clue where those places are," he said.

Usually when I'd speak to him, Gondo would stay on the phone for as long as you were willing to talk, because ... well, because if he had something better to do, his weakened heart wouldn't allow it.

For the first time since he got really sick, he hung up on me a little while ago.

"I'm goin' for a walk today," he said.

THEN:

I know this will never happen, but when I think about people like Glen Gondrezick, and the generous soul who died so Gondo could live, I wish when it came to sports they'd refer to it as "sudden victory" instead of the other way.

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