Needing double lung transplant, ‘Zip’ Jones finds friends, hope

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Kathy Chaffin
MOCKSVILLE ó When he was young, Warren Jones ran so fast his middle school track coach arranged for him to compete with the high school team.
There were many times when he would “zip” right past his competitors to the finish line, thus earning Jones the nickname that remains with him to this day. His two Davie High relay teams remained undefeated the whole time he was there.
Jones also played football. “My first football coach, he’d say, ‘Boy, sometimes when you’re running, it looks like your feet ain’t even touching the ground,’ ” he recalls.
When he first got to high school, Jones says, the junior varsity football coach wasn’t going to let him play because he weighed only 119 pounds. “Coach (Julius) Suiter said, ‘Give Zip the ball,’ ” he says. “From there I went on to varsity. I was the starting halfback for three years.”
Jones quarterbacked his senior year, becoming the first black quarterback in the North Piedmont Conference of North Carolina.
At age 49, Zip Jones is no longer able to run. Even walking requires more strength than he is sometimes able to muster, and he carries a portable oxygen tank with him wherever he goes.
Jones spent most of this year as a patient at Davis Medical Center in Statesville and Duke Medical Center in Durham. Now back at his home on Dutchman Trail in Davie County, he spends most days in a recliner on oxygen to help him breathe.
The fact that he’s still alive is a testament to Jones’ will to live. Doctors at Duke say his strength and youth make him a good candidate for a double lung transplant, his only chance for survival.
Jones’ health problems began Jan. 2, when he became really weak and his fever climbed to 102.8 degrees. His longtime girlfriend, Shirley Dalton, drove him to Davis Medical Center, where he was diagnosed with double pneumonia.
That was the first of eight battles with pneumonia Jones would face this year. “They didn’t think I was going to make it one time,” he says. “I had a bad, bad infection.”
In March, when Jones came down with pneumonia for the third time, Dr. Ahmed Elnaggar of Piedmont Healthcare diagnosed him with pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable lung disease.
Elnaggar didn’t have to tell Jones the bitter facts about pulmonary fibrosis. He had watched it claim the life of his 78-year-old father in 2006.
“It happened so fast,” he says. Calvin Lee Jones was diagnosed March 14 and died Sept. 3 of that same year.
Jones says there is no treatment or cure for pulmonary fibrosis. “It’s like a thick mucous that just gets thicker and thicker and thicker and thicker,” he says, “until it finally smothers your airways.”
Doctors have measured Jones’ loss of lung function as 98 percent in his right lung, and 11 percent in his left. “They have told me the hourglass is turned upside down,” he says, “and like I said, usually somewhere between nine and 15 months, it runs its course.
“Then you are gone,” he says. “You are gone.”
The fact that Jones went on Medicare after diabetes and heart and leg blockages prevented him from returning to his 26-year career as a welder is working against him. Because he’s under the age of 50, Medicare won’t pay the $669,000 cost of the transplant surgery.
And even though surgeons have said they’ll do the transplant for free, Duke Medical Center is requiring $25,000 from Jones up front. That includes the cost of three months of medication to prevent rejection of the donor organs ó a total of $12,075 ó and the cost of lodging for the extensive rehabilitation required following the transplant.
Jones saw little hope of coming up with the money. “Mocksville is such a small community,” he says, “and you know the economy is so bad.”
But the small community has a big heart.
Jones’ family, friends, former classmates and fellow members of St. John’s AME Zion Church rallied around him, setting up a fund at BB&T in early November and scheduling a series of fundraisers since then. N.C. Rep. Julia Howard, who lives in Mocksville and knew Jones’ family, even pitched in to help.
The Rev. Daniel Brown, who went to high school with Jones, says they’ve sold raffle tickets at football and basketball games and held fundraiser dinners at various locations. They even sold hot dogs at the Mocksville Christmas parade Dec. 6.
“Everybody’s working hard at it,” he says. “It’s urgent that we get the money before February.”
So far, about $21,000 has been raised.
Brown played football and baseball with Jones at Davie High, and they’ve remained friends ever since. “He’s like a brother to me,” Brown says.
When he heard about Jones’ diagnosis, he says, he knew he had to try to help. “I thought, ‘What if it was me?’ ”
Jones, who lived for several years in Atlanta before returning to Davie 14 years ago, says he’s overwhelmed by the support he has received.
“There’s no place like home,” he says. “You can go far and near, but sooner or later, you find your way back home.”
Though his faith has always been important to him, Jones says he is relying on it now more than ever. “It’s been an ordeal,” he says, “and I know it’s not over yet, but with the grace of the Lord, I’ll come over on the other side of this and I’ll be a new person, spiritually, physically and mentally.
“I can’t wait to endure this serious situation. I know that I shall endure. I know that I shall.”
And on days when he gets down, there are plenty of people to help him back up, including Shirley. “She’s my everything,” he says.
Dalton says, “I tell him everything is going to be all right. I tell him the Lord knows best. If he was ready for you to go, he would have taken you.
“We just help each other,” she says. “Praise the Lord on that.”
Jones says relatives and friends of his mother, Josephina Dillard Jones, who died of multiple sclerosis when she was only 49, try to fill in for her.
Peggy Jones, for example, tells him, “Zip, you ain’t got no give up in you.”
While he waits for the double lung transplant, Jones says, he takes strength from his favorite hymn, “God Never Fails.” Then, despite the oxygen and his diseased lungs, he begins to sing:
No need to worry.
No need to fret.
For God Almighty
Has never failed me yet.
He’ll be there.
He’ll be there …
It is a song of hope.
For more information on the Warren “Zip” Jones Fund, log on to Anyone wishing to donate may write a check to St. John’s AME Zion Church: Warren Jones Benevolent Fund, and mail it to P.O. Box 552, Mocksville, N.C. 27028.