Wootten looking forward to fall basketball practice Coach leaves Hopkins after liver transplant

August 10, 1996|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,SUN STAFF

Morgan Wootten arrived in a Johns Hopkins Hospital wheelchair, wearing sandals and sweat socks, a wide smile and a red polo shirt bearing the words "DeMatha Coaching Staff." His wife, Kathy, occasionally rubbed his back.

"When I entered this hospital one month and two days ago, I wasn't sure I would be able to greet you like this, or whether I would ever see any of you again," Wootten said at the news conference marking his discharge yesterday. "But here I am, through the grace of God and the help of so many people."

Wootten, who in 1993 became the fifth high school basketball coach in the country to win 1,000 games, had a diseased liver for years and received a transplant July 10. After reading a prepared statement and declining to take questions, Wootten added only a few words.

"We'll see you at practice Nov. 8," said Wootten.

Will he really? Dr. Andrew Klein, Hopkins' chief of liver, kidney and pancreas transplantation, has "every expectation Mr. Wootten will be there Nov. 8" for the start of his 41st season at DeMatha. His top assistant is his son Joe.

Wootten, 65, now will begin intensive rehabilitation at home in an attempt to get his bearings after being bedridden for a month. He took his first steps Wednesday, walking 54 feet, and increased it to 120 Thursday.

"We expect a gradual but full recovery," Klein said. "He'll have a different life. He'll feel much better than before."

Wootten doesn't intend to re-evaluate priorities, but believes instead that the illness confirms his.

"As both a history teacher and a coach, I have always emphasized to students that a person's order of priorities in life should be God first, family second and education third," he said. "Basketball, or any other interest, should be no higher than fourth.

"I am convinced that God and my family -- my extended family of relatives, friends and the public -- enabled me to survive and recover."

Wootten suffered a mild rejection of the transplant last week, but overcame it and was upgraded to good condition again. His doctors say another rejection at this point is unlikely.

"Liver transplants are a roller-coaster ride," Klein said. "Mr. Wootten has weathered quite well."

Aware that Wootten is regarded as a strong motivator, Klein says the coach will be an even better one as a result of this experience.

"He faced the ultimate challenge -- death -- and motivated himself to overcome it," Klein said. "You couldn't ask for a better motivator than that."

Wootten, who has a 1,094-163 record at DeMatha, collapsed July 7 at his basketball camp at Mount St. Mary's. He had been on a transplant list since April, but the internal bleeding that developed last month made him a "high priority" candidate for a transplant. His diseased liver was believed to have stemmed from an inherited condition.

Pub Date: 8/10/96

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