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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

From the mound to the operating table

Campbell Hall pitcher Chad Eaton will close out his high school baseball career with a game Saturday against Glendale Hoover. On Tuesday, he's due to receive a transplanted kidney.

March 08, 2012|Eric Sondheimer

Smiling, giggling, laughing — watching Chad Eaton play baseball, you'd never know that his senior season is about to end only three weeks after it began.

"What I admire about him is being brave, strong and mentally tough, being able to wake up and find a sanctuary on the baseball field and giving 100%," North Hollywood Campbell Hall Coach Juan Velazquez said. "It puts a smile on my face every day."

On Saturday, Eaton will take the mound as the starting pitcher for Campbell Hall in a 1:30 p.m. home game against Glendale Hoover. When it is over, Eaton's prep career will be too.

He is scheduled to undergo a kidney transplant Tuesday after spending nearly a year stuck for 10 hours each night in his bedroom with a tube attached to his stomach, receiving dialysis because his one remaining kidney was deteriorating so rapidly.

He knew this day was coming, since he had one nonfunctioning kidney removed when was 18 months old and had been warned while growing up that he'd need a kidney transplant before he became an adult.

"I'm going to spend as much time with my teammates as I can, play the hardest I've ever practiced in practice and just make the best of what I have left," Eaton said.

Donating the kidney is his aunt, Susan Launer, who lives in Marina del Rey and has always considered him like a son.

"It is quite a donation, but he's quite a cool kid," Launer said. "I promised him when he was 4 that I'd give him one of my kidneys."

The surgery will take between five and eight hours at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Eaton will stay for at least seven days, then spend six to eight weeks recovering at home.

It has been a scary time for Eaton, but the good news is that if everything goes as planned, he'll finally be healthy and perhaps even play baseball again.

"It's definitely a challenge taking all my medications and being happy all the time," he said. "Sometimes I don't feel the best. I want to show people I'm happy because I'm a happy person.

"I don't get down on myself a lot. I've definitely screamed. I calm myself down, realizing I'm getting a transplant soon and everything's going to be better. All these problems are going to go away soon. I still have baseball. I always think of that. It's something I love."

He pitched for Campbell Hall last season with a catheter in his body. Four times he was hospitalized because of infections. He was becoming weak. Those were the days that impressed Velazquez the most.

"Chad is an inspiration just because of those days where you're not necessarily 100%, you're down and you see this kid on the field giving everything he's got, knowing what he's going though," Velazquez said.

In the fall, college beckons, and this Southern California-raised 17-year-old has applied to a school across the country, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. But there is a reason for Eaton's interest.

Wake Forest baseball Coach Tom Walter donated one of his kidneys to a freshman player, Kevin Jordan, last year.

"It's an inspirational story, and I'd love to be part of that program," Eaton said.

Feeling the pain and loneliness some kids have to endure in the hospital, Eaton started an organization, Recycle for a Charity, with which he hopes to put iPads and games into the hands of children when they are spending long hours going through dialysis in the hospital.

"I want to help kids in similar situations," he said. "They can't help what they have. I want to help kids get used to the medical problems. I want to make it easier on them."

And so on Saturday, Eaton will step on the mound for a final time in a Campbell Hall uniform and almost certainly let loose a big smile. He'll be doing what he loves most — playing baseball.

"It's my escape from my problems," he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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