Some may call it fate. Others may call it karma or divine intervention. Whatever it is, Chris Simon and Peter Jordan – both natives of Verona, New Jersey – were brought together in 2017 as co-workers at Knickerbocker Country Club in Tenafly.
Although they both hailed from the same small, Essex County town, they did not know each other before crossing paths at Knickerbocker. But quickly, they discovered that they had much in common – friends, stories, and a career in golf. Jordan, who has been the Caddie Master at Knickerbocker for 18 years, and Simon, an assistant professional at the club for three years, became fast friends. That friendship would lead to December 31, 2019, when they would forge an unlikely bond to last a lifetime.
On New Year’s Eve, Jordan, a married father of two teenage boys, lay on an operating table at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. He was about to enter surgery, where he would donate one of his kidneys. The recipient: his friend, Chris Simon.
Due to a genetic disorder called polycystic kidney disease, Simon, 36, had undergone dialysis for over three years. He would visit the dialysis center three nights per week, six hours per visit, and be ready for work the next morning – never with a complaint. Jordan, aware of Simon’s ongoing battle, was a first-hand witness each day. It helped lead him to become part of a kidney swap, which connects a willing donor/recipient pair with non-matching blood or tissue types, with a donor/recipient combination that does match. The idea was that the Jordan-Simon pairing would lead them to a matching pair elsewhere, and a lifesaving transplant.
“I was inspired by a friend of mine, Brian Glennon, who altruistically donated a kidney, through the connection of his wife, who works for the New Jersey Sharing Network,” Jordan said. “So I was willing to donate a kidney on Chris’s behalf, even though it may not have been going directly to Chris.”
While Jordan, age 47, was making his decision, his wife Andrea, and sons PJ, 19, and Griffin, 17, backed him wholeheartedly.
“My first question was to my wife, how she felt about it. She was supportive, and having my wife and family behind me made it a lot easier.
Simon’s reaction was beyond appreciative.
“When Peter told me just before Christmas in late 2018 that he was going to start the process of the kidney swap, I just lost it. It was unbelievable of him. My family was completely blown away by it”, said Simon, who played varsity golf at Verona High School and collegiately at Wesley College in Delaware.
Normally, a patient on dialysis was to wait five-to-seven years to receive a kidney. Jordan’s effort would cut the wait time for Simon essentially in half.
“Once I decided to donate, Chris was guaranteed to receive a kidney,” Jordan knew.
The identity of the donor would be a surprise to all.
In February, 2019, Simon received a most improbable call from his doctor in August – one that would change the course of his life. Simon’s doctor delivered the news that Jordan’s kidney was a very strong match. In fact, as Simon’s doctor later described, “so close a match that the doctor thought we were siblings,” Jordan said. Remarkable, as the odds in finding a suitable, non-relative match are less than 25 percent.
The colleagues agreed that they would wait until the conclusion of the 2019 golf season for the surgery. With the unlikely match made, and as spring turned into summer and fall, the wheels were set in motion for surgery on December 31, when Jordan would donate a kidney to Simon. So, on New Year’s Eve, as the rest of the world was ready to ring in 2020, Simon and Jordan were admitted to St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston to embark on a kidney transplant procedure. After a six-hour procedure, Simon was wheeled out of surgery with a new kidney, donated by Jordan, and a new life in front of him.
Jordan’s act of goodwill, and Simon’s resolve throughout the ordeal inspired the best in the Knickerbocker community; members and staff alike rallied around the two every step of the way. Words of encouragement, well wishes, and goodwill gestures abounded. Proceeds from women’s annual holiday fundraiser went to the St. Barnabas Living Donor institute to support the two men directly.
“When you approach something like this that includes quite a few ‘what-ifs,’ the kind, genuine words of encouragement help you go in with a clear head. For me, I could literally feel the support through words, thoughts and prayers. It provided a lot of courage,” said Jordan.
Since the surgery, Simon has been recuperating at home in Verona where he has been touched by the extraordinary support of the members and his colleagues at Knickerbocker.
“The people of Knickerbocker have been unbelievable in every respect. They couldn’t have been any more supportive; showing up at my door with food, sending gift cards, doing anything they could to show their support. I can’t count the number of text messages and phone calls, and each one has meant more than I can express,” Simon stated.
Those efforts do not surprise Knickerbocker Head PGA Professional Bill Hook, who hired Simon three years ago, knowing full well that he was undergoing dialysis.
“I needed a good assistant. I spoke to his former boss, Chris Dachisen at North Jersey Country Club, who highly recommended Chris. So, we met, I hired him – and he continues to exceed my expectations.
“The whole story says a lot about both of those guys. Pete had no second guesses about doing it the whole way. He’s an incredible guy… it’s just who he is. Chris has never complained about his dialysis. And I’m so proud of the club; Knickerbocker is really a family. Members involve the staff in that aspect, and to see us come together with the entire club’s support for these guys is just incredible,” Hook noted.
Said longtime Knickerbocker member and recent golf chairman Phil Fabrizio: “The membership is very close to our golf staff. That is the environment that is fostered at Knickerbocker, and Bill Hook has surrounded himself with quality people. It’s a very warm environment. So, it isn’t surprising that something like this would happen.”
Fabrizio continued, “We’re excited as members to be close enough to the situation so we can witness something like this happening. To have people we care about show such kindness is a lesson for all of us. We will be thrilled when Chris returns to work,” Fabrizio said.
Jordan’s reaction to his lifesaving deed speaks to his selfless nature. “It’s been a really incredible and rewarding experience. Chris and I are friends, and we will always be closer for this reason,” said Jordan, who also continues his recovery at home with his family. “The only thing I can’t do now is play contact sports – so I won’t be playing football any time soon,” he concluded.
Simon, who is of Irish heritage, is circling the date of March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, for his return to work at Knickerbocker.
“That day would work out perfect,” he said.
Perfect in every way.
This story was written by Mike Moretti of the New Jersey State Golf Association, and is reprinted here with his permission. Peter Jordan graduated Verona High School in 1990 and Chris Simon was class of 2001. Verona has had two other living donor kidney transplants in recent years, Sarah Ford and Maureen Tracy.