For two brothers in the NFL, sacrificing their careers wasn’t an easy step but it was the right thing to do.
Christopher and Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Tonga, both former Super Bowl champions, ended their NFL careers so that Chris could have a life-saving kidney transplant. Chris, 31, had been battling kidney disease that developed from a childhood illness. Ma’ake, 35, underwent kidney transplant surgery in August so that he could give one of his kidneys to Chris.
“It’s my duty to take care of my younger brother,” Ma’ake told ABC News. “If he needs blood, I’ll give blood and if he needs a kidney, I’ll give a kidney.”
After Chris’s 2011 season as a lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the pain was too much and Chris stopped playing football. Ma’ake, who was a nose tackle with the Baltimore Ravens, ended his career the following season to help his brother.
“I’ve seen him struggle and the last three years of his career, fighting through a lot because of his kidney,” Ma’ake said at a press conference at the University of Maryland Medical Center on Wednesday. “When we found out he needed a transplant, we had to stop our careers because his health was most important to us.”
The brothers, who each weighed 345 pounds, had to lose weight before the procedure.
"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," Dr. Matthew Weir told The Baltimore Sun. "Patients need to be at their optimal health when they undergo a transplant so that they have the greatest chance for long-term success."
Chris also had coronary artery bypass surgery this summer to correct a pre-existing heart condition, the paper reported.
The surgery was a success and the brothers are in recovery at the University of Maryland Hospital. “I have to say the kidney we got from Ma'ake was probably the largest normal kidney I have ever seen in my life,” Dr. Stephen Bartlett, one of the brother’s surgeons, said during a news conference. “I felt like somebody had thrown me a small football.”
When they leave the hospital, the brothers plan to return to their native Hawaii and continue their charity work. “We’ve been gone from home for a long time,” Chris said. “The last two years gave us a lot of time to think and reevaluate where we’re at with life and making the transition from football to the normal life.”
But it might be impossible to return to normalcy immediately. A documentary about the brothers, called A Brother’s Journey, is to be distributed, according to ABC News.
“It’s truly been a blessing for my brother and me,” Chris told ABC. “He made a huge sacrifice for me and blessed me with a new kidney.”