'I'm the only sportscaster in town--maybe in the world--with three kidneys," 47-year-old "Coach" Charleye Wright said from his hospital bed.
He is also the only radio personality in town to broadcast each morning direct from St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles, where he is recovering from the most highly publicized kidney transplant surgery since Gary Coleman's.
The tall, gaunt sportscaster, who has built a reputation by alternately taking potshots at Dodger Coach Tommy "Lasagna" and boosting promising high school athletes, is scheduled to leave the hospital today, with one good and two bad kidneys.
If all goes well, he will be back in the studios at KIIS-FM (102.7) and KIIS-AM (1150) by mid-April. For now, he's giving the Dodgers daily trouble from a broadcast console he sets on his lap in bed . . . and it's tough to detect any difference.
"At 7:22 a.m., I'll have the bad news for the Dodgers," he teased the KIIS audience during his regular 7 a.m. Monday morning sportscasting brief. "Sorry, Tommy."
"If we didn't know you were in a hospital bed at St. Vincent's, I don't think anyone would know," KIIS disc jockey Rick Dees told him on the air Monday. "He actually sounds better than he does when he's here in the studio!"
Wright's profile as a sports critic has grown steadily over the past three years, using the highly rated Dees' morning show as a power base. But, over the same time period, his kidneys have developed genetic cysts that have progressively reduced their functioning to zero.
Occasionally Dees half-joked over the air that the "Coach" was soliciting listeners for a spare kidney, but most KIIS listeners were unaware that Wright had to go through the tedious blood-cleansing process known as dialysis every three days.
"Rick has made bits out of my looking for a kidney and, over the past year, three or four women have called to ask me about dialysis," Wright said Sunday. "It can be really frightening. The first time I looked at the machine, it looked like the cockpit of a 747."
Since last fall, even dialysis wasn't helping his condition.
"I have been gradually deteriorating since November," Wright said. "Then I got the Philippine flu in January.
"I was incoherent. I was unable to speak English. I could not talk, could not count to 10, could not remember the names of my kids."
He went first to Circle City Hospital in Corona, then transferred to St. Vincent's for the operation when a donor materialized 11 days ago.
"Ironically, his name was Charlie too," Wright said. "He died a week ago Friday night. I got one kidney, and a 24-year-old kid over in the next room got the other."
It has not been a problem keeping up on the news. He gathered fodder for his Monday morning potshot at the Dodgers by watching a preseason game on TV over the weekend, concluding that the boys in blue would be lucky to finish third in their division this year.
"I just kind of stay up with everything," Wright said. "I was back on the air on Wednesday. There was no pressure to do it, but I had the energy and I wanted to get back."
But his talk is not just of Lakers and Santa Anita and Clippers and Dodgers. He also does a lot of proselytizing on the merits of maintaining good health these days--both on the air and off.
He talks to the caller from Texas who is facing transplant surgery, to the women who are facing dialysis treatment and to the young man who has just discovered he has kidney disease "and he's terrified."
"People definitely take their health for granted," Wright said. "Stop smoking, do what you've got to do to maintain your health. It makes all the difference in the world."