Kai Johns devoted part of his working life to service in the United States military. But when he visited medics with suspected flu, doctors found themselves in a battle against the clock.
Veteran Johns was born with a condition known as polycystic kidney disease (PKD). He was not the first in his family to be blighted by the illness. In fact, it had also affected the three generations before him. But despite this, Johns managed to live a life more interesting than most.
Johns lived an active lifestyle and enjoyed diving. One of his recent adventures involved an underwater adventure in Honduras in the fall of 2016. However, a love for sub-aqua antics wasn’t his only passion. He had also devoted a period in his life to patriotic duties.
The Ashburn, Virginia, man spent part of his twenties serving in the U.S. military at Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina. He worked as a paratrooper before he quit military life to become a telecommunications engineer. During his time in the U.S. forces, Johns made some close friends.
One such buddy was Sgt. First Class Rob Harmon, who became a friend that Johns valued dearly during his service. However, the true extent of their bond would only come to light some two decades after they had first met, long after Johns’ military service was behind him.
Despite Harmon’s decision to continue on his path in the military after Johns called it quits, the pair stayed in touch. They both used social media to maintain a connection as the years went by. And this connection would in fact one day turn out to be a lifesaver for Johns.
In November 2016, just a few weeks after returning home from a diving trip, Johns began to feel ill with what the former soldier wrote off as a simple case of the flu. However when he presented his illness to doctors, they found a far more serious problem.
Doctors found that Johns in fact had almost no kidney function left as a result of his PKD. His function levels had dipped as low as 6 percent by the time medics knew that something was wrong. They also found some large stones in his kidneys, which were causing further complications. Suddenly, it was a race against time to save Johns’ life.
They made various attempts to break up the stones, used nephrostomy tubes and carried out dialysis procedures in a desperate bid to fix Johns’ kidneys and save his life. However, their efforts failed and Johns’ condition worsened. He was now facing all-out kidney failure. This left only one option for the former soldier.
Johns needed an urgent transplant, so medics placed him on a waiting list for the procedure at Washington, D.C.’s MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. However, the problem was that Johns had yet to find an acceptable donor who could facilitate the transplant and save his life.
Family and friends began the search to find a matching donor for Johns. His nearest and dearest took to social media in the hope of finding a match to give Johns a transplant. They didn’t have to wait long. Indeed, within hours, they had found somebody willing to take a test.
In fact, his old friend Harmon agreed to be tested to see if he was a match. In a twist of luck, Harmon’s kidney fitted the bill and seemed to a match for Johns’ body. Harmon told medics that he was more than willing to go under the knife for the transplant in a bid to save his friend’s life.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing from this point. The testing process is often fraught with complications. Johns subsequently explained how medics were forced to run a series of tests to ensure that Harmon’s kidney would be suitable for his body. “Blood was one of the first factors. Rob and I are both the same blood type. I know it’s an extensive set of tests to find out if someone is a match, but Georgetown found out that Rob and I were a great match for each other,” he said.
Many might see Harmon’s gesture as extraordinary, especially given the fact that the two had not even seen each other for more than a decade. But Harmon revealed that the decision came naturally to him. “It was like a no brainer. I saw the post and I was like ‘what can I do to help,’” he told Washington news channel WJLA.
When Johns heard about the gesture, he couldn’t believe that his military pal from the past was stepping in to save his life. “You are literally, knowingly saving somebody’s life. It’s as simple as that. There’s no thanks you can give,” he told WJLA.
Both men went under the knife on April 28, 2017. Harmon revealed that the procedure was actually more straightforward than he had imagined. “It was easier than I thought it would be. I needed a few more incisions than Kai to get it out, but other than that it wasn’t too difficult,” he told WJLA.
The operation was a success and both Johns and Harmon were able to move around just hours after the procedure was completed. The pair used their time to recover as an excuse to talk about their friendship. “There’s a few people I would do it for. Kai just happened to be the first to ask,” Harmon said.
Since the operation, doctors praised Harmon’s selfless actions to help his friend. MedStar’s Dr. Jennifer Verbesey told how fortune played a role in the success of the procedure. “In cases of living donation, donor safety is of utmost importance,” she told The Loudoun Times in May 2017. “Before someone can become a living donor we give them an extensive and thorough workup. Mr. Johns was so lucky to receive such a healthy kidney from his very selfless Army buddy.”
The doctor also spoke of the difficulties faced by some potential transplant patients when it comes to asking friends and family for help. “It’s not like borrowing a book that they’re going to return. I advise people to start with a conversation letting people know what’s going on in their lives and that they’re in need of a kidney.”
With the operation and recovery now behind them, both men have since stayed in close contact. As for Johns, he is extremely grateful for his new lease of life. “There’s not enough thanks in the world to give to someone to step up and do such a selfless act,” he told The Loudoun Times. “It’s just unbelievable.”