Saying, “I’m the oldest of the seven kids, (so) it was my responsibility to take care of my younger brother,” Ma’ake Kemoeatu gifted Chris in a kidney transplant between Kahuku High and NFL football players.
“If my brother — or any of my siblings — needed blood, then it will be my blood. If any of my siblings needed a kidney, it would have to be my kidney,” Ma’ake said Wednesday at a Baltimore press conference.
The surgery took place Aug. 27 at the University of Maryland Medical Center and “is expected to restore kidney function and eliminate Chris’ need for dialysis,” UMMC officials said.
Ma’ake is 35 and played at 345 pounds in the NFL. Chris is 31 and played at 385 pounds. They each played for the Red Raiders, attended the University of Utah, and earned Super Bowl victories in their NFL careers as on-the-field rivals, Ma’ake with the Baltimore Ravens in 2013, and Chris with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006 and 2009.
Doctors said Ma’ake’s kidney was the largest they had ever seen, one-and-a-half times bigger than a normal healthy one, said Stephen Bartlett, the Peter Angelos Distinguished Professor of Surgery and Chair, Department of Surgery at UMMC.
UMMC officials said Chris had long battled the effects of a childhood illness that “gradually weakened his kidneys and began pursuing a kidney transplant” at the medical center about a year ago.
It said he required “extensive medical management to combat pre-existing health conditions to prepare him for transplantation” and that “a living kidney donation from a friend or relative was suggested as an option to help Chris spend less time on the transplant wait list and to improve his odds of a successful transplant.”
Their father and other brothers were all tested as possible donors, but Ma’ake was a 99 percent match, doctors said.
“We spent the past year together overcoming some complex medical challenges to enable Chris to become eligible to receive a kidney from any type of donor,” said Dr. Matthew Weir, professor of medicine and director of the division of nephrology at UMMC.
“There are simply not enough organs available for those who need transplants, so living donors like Ma’ake are real heroes for stepping in to save their loved ones’ life,” Bartlett said.
In addition to the kidney transplant, Bartlett oversaw the coronary artery bypass surgery performed on Chris this summer to correct a pre-existing heart condition, UMMC said.
They said they plan to return to Hawaii where they own the Pacific Elite Sports Fitness Center in Kaneohe.