Before they arrived at UC Riverside, Kevin Krause ’92 and Ray Rodriguez ’92 were junior college rivals on the basketball court.
So when they got to campus as Highlander teammates, they were surprised — and not altogether thrilled — to discover they would be roommates.
“We had played each other a couple times a year,” recalled Kevin, 50, a physical therapist who lives in Santa Rosa with his wife, Jenny, and teenage daughters Madeline and Siena. “We both were the best players on our teams. No love was lost when we played.”
Thirty years later, the two men would find themselves as roommates again, though under much different circumstances.
In 2015, Kevin was diagnosed with cardiac sarcoidosis, a rare auto-immune disease in which clusters of white blood cells form in the tissue of the heart, leading to irregular heartbeats. Over the next four years, Kevin was in and out of the hospital, with doctors prescribing him a number of medications. None of them helped.
Early in 2019, physicians at UC San Francisco told him his heart was failing, and he needed a transplant to save his life. He was transferred to Stanford University Medical Center in June, placed on the heart donor waiting list, and told he had six months to a year left to live without a new heart — about as long as it usually takes to find a match.
But only a day and one 10-hour surgery later, he had one.
“It’s just amazing how quickly the stars lined up,” Kevin said. “I didn’t have much time to think about it or fret on it. I woke up the next morning, and I’m going to surgery. The nurse didn’t even know what surgery she was prepping me for.”
He spent the next month in the hospital, mostly in intensive care. A few weeks after his surgery, Kevin’s old UCR basketball coach, John Masi, drove up to visit him. The two spent a few hours catching up in his room, which Kevin described as an unexpected and touching surprise.
“Coach Masi provided an opportunity for me to widen my horizons, get exposed to new experiences, and challenge myself,” Krause said. “Too often in life we forget to thank those people in our lives for being positive influences. I was happy I had that chance.”
After being discharged, Kevin rented a one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto so he could attend his frequent check-ups over the next few months without traveling hours each way. Jenny came down to be with him while their girls stayed with Kevin’s parents in Santa Rosa, with his brother and sister also making visits.
Kevin and Jenny had already discussed moving from their home in Arcata, about 300 miles north of San Francisco in Humboldt County, so he could be near the hospital in case of emergency. Eventually, they found a place in Santa Rosa.
While Jenny went back up north to sort out the move, Kevin needed someone to stay with him for a week in Palo Alto. He called Ray.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Ray, who had visited Kevin in Arcata about once a year, usually to play golf. “He’s really a part of our family.”
The pair spent a lot of time chatting as they walked — slowly — around the apartment complex as part of Kevin’s recovery. They also managed to ascend to the top of the Stanford bell tower and take a day trip to the beach.
Kevin, who served as a groomsman at Ray’s wedding to Lisa Rodriguez ’91, said the gesture meant a lot to him, as did the numerous texts and calls he got from his former teammates and friends from UCR.
“You don’t realize the friendships you form during those formative years really do last a lifetime,” he said.
Many of those same people also contributed to a GoFundMe campaign organized by Kevin’s nephew to help his family raise money for their costly living and moving expenses. With Kevin receiving only disability payments and his wife having to halt her career as a dietician to care for him, the bills quickly piled up. Kevin’s rent in Palo Alto alone cost $6,000 a month.
The fundraiser took in nearly $79,000 in two months, $4,000 more than the goal.
“It was overwhelming,” Kevin said. “You’re part of the community, but you never really understand how deep it goes. There is no way we could have done all that without bankrupting ourselves.”
He got to thank some of his former teammates in person when a group of them gathered in early March for a mini reunion organized by Robin Takeno ’91, who served as the basketball team’s statistician and manager while they were in college and remains one of Kevin’s closest friends.
Kevin and Jenny hitched a ride with Ray and Lisa to Riverside in what amounted to Kevin’s first big outing since the surgery. The Highlander alumni watched the basketball team beat UC Davis 66-61 on senior night, then gathered for a post-game meal at Romano’s and a nightcap at Duke’s Bar and Grill.
“You could see by Kevin’s laughter he had a really good time,” Ray said. “We have already made arrangements to come next year.”
The pair had even planned to head to the Indian Wells Masters tennis tournament, but it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Kevin said he loved getting the chance to get the old gang together after so many years.
“You spend three hours a day with your teammates for your entire college career,” he said. “It was great to reconnect and see how those early interactions influence who you turn out to be. They are still some of my closest friends.”
Feeling well enough to travel was a big milestone in Kevin’s recovery, and his endurance is getting back to where it was before he got sick. He and Jenny walk every day, often adding a 10-mile bike ride for good measure, Kevin said. If it wasn’t for COVID-19, he’d be back at work.
“Now that I’m getting to feel really good, I start realizing how amazing the whole thing is,” Kevin said. “People say it’s a miracle. Initially, you don’t really internalize it a lot. But it really was a miracle.”
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Header photo (from left): James King ’97, Heshemu "Boo" Purdom ’95, Charles Purdom ’94, Robin Takeno ’91, Kevin Krause ’92, Anthony Jenkins ’97, Craig Marshall ’95, and Ray Rodriguez ’92. Photo by Blossom Marshall.