At the Farmer house, every day is Christmas

  • White Sox radio play-by-play man and former major-leaguer Ed Farmer, with his friend Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White counts his blessings every day.

    White Sox radio play-by-play man and former major-leaguer Ed Farmer, with his friend Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White counts his blessings every day. Photo courtesy of Chicago White Sox

Published12/24/2009 3:37 PM

He was sitting in a hotel lobby at Disney World when his wife passed within a few feet of him.

And kept on walking.


"She was coming in from out of town to meet me," Ed Farmer remembers. "I called to her and she turned around. She looked right at me and didn't see me."

Farmer had lost so much weight in a couple of weeks in August 1990 that Barbara didn't recognize him.

He was withering away because his body was shutting down.

And he was dying.

"A few weeks later I was in Boston scouting Roger Clemens for the Orioles and Roland Hemond," Farmer recalls. "I had seen (Angels manager) Doug Rader at Fenway Park and he must have known I was sick because he told me if I needed help, I could call their trainer.

"I got back to the hotel room and by then I knew I was in big trouble. I called (Angels trainer) Ned Bergert and he came over. When I opened the door he looked at me and said, 'We're going to the hospital.' I didn't have the energy to fight him."

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Farmer was taken to Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston, and it was both coincidence and Farmer's good fortune that this facility and these doctors were at the forefront of studying kidney disorders and transplants.

"It's funny the things you remember," Farmer said recently from his off-season home in Southern California. "I remember that Doug Rader, who's only the manager of the Angels at the time, went to my hotel room and packed up all my stuff and brought it back to the ballpark for me.

"I was going to be in the hospital for a while so he knew my bags would be fine at Fenway until I could get them.

"And the other thing is I met Dr. Ted Steinman."

Inside of a minute, Steinman had diagnosed Farmer.

"He asked me how long I'd been in renal failure, and I thought it had probably been a year," Farmer says matter-of-factly. "Well, look, I was about 40 and my dad died at 41 and my mother at 38.


"I knew what was coming. I had already started putting everything in my wife's name and my daughter's name."

But Shanda was only 10 years old and Farmer couldn't function when he thought about leaving her and Barbara. He couldn't bear the thought, so he didn't.

But in August 1990 he had no choice. Farmer had polycystic kidney disease, which killed his mother and to this day is the No. 1 genetically passed disease in the world.

"Dr. Steinman knew it. He said I was gonna need a kidney transplant - and soon," said Farmer. "He said, 'Do you have any relatives?'

"I said, 'I have eight brothers and sisters.'

"He said, 'How many do you talk to?'

"I said, 'One.' "


Ed Farmer grew up in Evergreen Park and attended St. Rita before the Indians drafted him at the age of 17.

Cleveland scout Jerry Krause signed him while Farmer was in his mother's hospital room, as she convinced him to turn pro and leave behind thoughts of pitching for Notre Dame or Arizona State.

Some 13 years later, Farmer's big-league career was nearing a premature conclusion, even though he was pitching well for the White Sox.

Farmer was headed for the 1980 All-Star Game, and probably Fireman of the Year honors, when he got stepped on at the bottom of a pile during a brawl and a cyst popped on one of his kidneys.

He pitched three more years and for three different teams but was never quite the same.

And now in 1990 he knew why.

Farmer was in renal failure and would die without a kidney transplant.

So he called his brother Tom and gave him the bad news.

"Tom immediately said, 'Well, I'll give you one of mine,' as casual as he'd say he was going to the store to buy a gallon of milk," Farmer laughs. "I said, 'Do you want to think about it?'

"He said, 'I did. You've got it. Take one of my kidneys.' "

Farmer went on dialysis for the next few months and prepared his family for the worst.

"We went to see the movie 'Ghost' and we were all crying," Farmer recalls. "It was all very sad. It's not something you want to come to terms with."

As luck would have it, Tom Farmer was an identical tissue match, and in January 1991 Ed Farmer was - as he puts it - born again, with a successful kidney transplant.

"I love my brother Tom. He gave me the gift of life," Farmer says. "He said it was like giving birth, and it was.

"When I walked into that hospital in August - and I didn't find this out until later - Dr. Steinman figured I had about three days to live if I hadn't shown up when I did.

"Now here I am, 20 years have passed, and I'm with my wife and daughter, the two best people I've ever known in my life, and it's all because of Tom.

"He gave me the greatest gift anyone can give. He gave me my life back. There's not enough ways to be thankful for that."


To say this is a special day for Ed Farmer is to understate the value of his waking up this Christmas morning.

Or any Christmas morning.

Or any day for that matter.

For to live as Farmer has lived is to understand that every day is Christmas Day for a transplant recipient.

And as Farmer approaches two decades since the lifesaving procedure, he still soaks up every minute of every day.

"I don't think of it much anymore because I'm really not the type to look back," Farmer said. "I got the opportunity to go on with life and see things from a different perspective.

"My baseball life was a different life. I was basically healthy until my kidneys started to fail, and then that was it for baseball."

It's no secret that Farmer loves to talk, something he has done for 18 years on White Sox radio broadcasts, but it's perhaps a function of his "rebirth" that he has a ferocious thirst for knowledge and intelligent conversation.

He reads with the same intensity with which he pitched, devouring books on Albert Einstein and astrophysics in equal measure, relative to nothing and at the same time everything, in search of an idea or theory he didn't know five minutes ago.

He will sit for hours with close friends like Jerry Reinsdorf, debating, well, anything, be it the news of the day or eras of baseball, while finding time to consume Notre Dame football and 18 holes at Cog Hill.

He will do anything for Secretary of State Jesse White and, urging all to register as organ donors, proud that White has made Illinois the top state in the country in that category.

He has testified before Congress about polycystic kidney disease, but that was nothing compared to last summer when he was given one of the great thrills of his life.

He was asked by Dr. Steinman to speak to 60 professors, interns, residents and incoming students at Harvard Medical School.

Farmer, who's sheepish about little, is not ashamed to admit he knows more about kidney disease than just about any patient ever has, which is why Harvard wanted to hear from him.

"For 20 years, every time I've been to Boston, I've spent a day or two with Steinman learning everything I could," Farmer said. "They've schooled me, and they wanted the young doctors to hear the story from the patient side.

"Those people in that room will have the gift of saving people's lives. They're special."

Farmer does not consider himself such, though anyone who knows him well also knows that to be untrue. And even though he doesn't dwell on the past, he's aware of his public role as a transplant patient.

"You can have a normal life again," Farmer explained. "People tend to look at transplant recipients as the yellow car going down the expressway with the blue door.

"I think as time goes by that goes away, and it's going to become even more common. In the next 20 years, people will be transplanting their own organs through DNA. Don't laugh. That's coming."

And no doubt when it happens Farmer will be back at Harvard to lecture again.

In the meantime, during this holiday season he looks forward to calling another year of White Sox baseball.

"I love the games. I love the booth. It really is a gift from God and a gift from my brother Tom," Farmer says. "It's a little bit of escape from life for me as a broadcaster and for the fan as a listener, and whatever Darrin (Jackson) and I can do to make the day a little more fun, we do."

And just because he doesn't look back, it doesn't mean he has forgotten the difficult road traveled.

"Every day is Christmas to me," Farmer says. "But as I say on the radio every time a player gets hurt, and I truly mean this, we're all day to day."

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