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Ashburn man receives kidney from Army buddy he hadn’t seen in 15 years

Kai Johns reunited with Army buddy Rob Harmon, who gave Johns a kidney. Times-Mirror/Chantalle Edmunds
For Ashburn's Kai Johns and former comrade Sgt. First Class Rob Harmon, Army roots have always run deep, but now the men have a different kind of bond after Johns received a life-saving kidney donation from Harmon.

Last November, both of Johns' kidneys failed, and he soon learned he was in urgent need of a transplant, he put out a request on Facebook for potential donors to come forward. Within 24 hours, 42-year-old Harmon from Georgia, who Johns hadn't seen in 15 years, stepped up to the plate.

Harmon and Johns met in the Army 22 years ago when they were stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Both men served as paratroopers. Johns now works as an engineer for Sprint.

“The Facebook appeal was called a 'Kidney for Kai.' As soon as I saw it I texted his wife Heather and asked what I could do to start the process to donate. There was just one question that needed to be answered, if it was OK with my wife,” Harmon said.

Johns said finding a kidney match is far from a simple process.

“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,” Johns said.

The operation took place April 28 at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Both men were up and walking the next day.

“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,” Harmon said.

Dr. Jennifer Verbesey is director of MedStar Georgetown's Living Kidney Donor program. She operated on Johns.

“Both donor and recipient are doing extremely well,” Verbesey said. “In cases of living donation, donor safety is of utmost importance. 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.”

“Some of my patients in need of a kidney find it difficult to ask their friends and family about donating a kidney to them,” Verbesey said. “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.”

After a week of recuperation staying with Johns, Harmon has returned to Georgia, and both men will continue their correspondence from afar. Johns said he is eternally grateful.

“There's not enough thanks in the world to give to someone to step up and do such a selfless act,” Johns said. “It's just unbelievable.”


This is just a small indication of what it means when military or former military members call each other brother or sister. I got out of the military 30 years ago after a 6 year stint and the friendships I made back then will last the rest of my life. Some of those people I have not seen since the day I walked off my ship for the last time but I know and they know that if they need me, I will be there and if I need them, they will be here.
This is a great story and not at all a surprising one. Best of luck to both of these men.

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