By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
A kidney for Kai: A tale of two old Army buddies
IMG 2258
Sgt. 1st Class Rob Harmon stands with Kai Johns at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, District of Columbia on April 27 before undergoing surgery to donate a kidney to his old Army buddy. Harmon was a perfect match and his living donation saved Johns life. - photo by Photo provided.

Sgt. 1st Class Rob Harmon, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade communications section, sat waiting for a meeting at Hunter Army Airfield in December of 2016. As he scrolled through his phone looking at his Facebook feed, he saw a post that would not only change his life but save someone else’s.

The post read:
Seven weeks ago Kai went in to the hospital in end stage renal failure. Fast forward nearly two months and he is being kept alive by dialysis three days a week. Please keep him in your prayers as the search continues for a kidney.

The post hit Harmon hard, as Kai Johns was an old Army buddy from the ‘90s. They had served together at Fort Bragg, North Carolina from 1995 to 1997 doing assault command post operations, providing support to the 18th Airborne Corps.

Though they didn’t see each other much at work, since they were in competing platoons and were on three-month rotations, they spent a lot of time together outside duty hours.

They went to a few concerts together, including a Lollapalooza, and Johns even introduced Harmon to the woman who would later become his wife.

“We were having fun like normal 20-year-olds do,” Harmon said.

But months prior to the Facebook post, in August of 2016, Johns’ health had begun to deteriorate quickly. He is a fifth-generation polycystic kidney disease carrier and had been reduced to about 6 percent kidney function. He lost approximately 50 pounds after a 45-day hospital stay. Harmon had to act fast.

Harmon spoke with his wife, who was very supportive of his intentions to at least find out if he was a match. He filled out a questionnaire and was contacted only a few days later. He received his first blood kit to complete in January.

After many tests, a thorough physical and a lot of bloodwork, Harmon found out in March that he was a healthy match.

“According to the doctors, our match was as close as you can get,” Harmon said with tears filling his eyes.

Four months passed from the date Harmon saw the post to the day of the operation.

On the morning of the surgery, April 27, Harmon arrived at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, District of Columbia, with Johns’ Family to begin the final preparation for the operation.

They sat next to each other in the pre-operation room as several nurses came to conduct various tasks related to the surgery.

Harmon had never experienced anesthesia before, and he was a bit nervous, especially after the anesthesiologist told him a little-known fact that directly impacted him.

“Redheads take more anesthesia, generally, than most other people,” he said.

Around 7:30 a.m., Harmon was wheeled to the operation room. After receiving an IV and an oxygen mask, he was told to count down.

“I got to 98 back from 100. That’s the last thing I remember.”

When he finally awoke from the anesthesia, he felt his blood begin to rush.

“It felt like my body was imploding,” Harmon said. “It literally felt like a black hole was forming in the center of my body.”

After about an hour, he calmed down and started recovering normally. He was up and walking around the next day.

Once Johns woke up, the change in his demeanor was almost instantaneous, Harmon said. He began walking the halls the same night, even though the doctors told him to wait. It was clear that the new kidney was working as it should.

“It is a great blessing,” Johns said. “Knowing that someone would step up and offer a piece of them to preserve your quality of life is quite an honor.”

When asked why he did it so quickly and willingly, Harmon was brought to tears as he answered.

“If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have my two girls right now,” he said. “If nobody else did it and I knew I could, how could I live with myself if I didn’t donate? How could I look my kids in the face and not donate when I could save his life?”

He didn’t even know that he would actually do it, as being a living donor had never crossed his mind in the past.

Considering that less than one percent of those in need of kidneys actually receive them, Harmon’s decision made a huge impact on many.

“Until you are put in that position, or until you are aware of it, you don’t give two thoughts about it until it’s staring you in the face.”

The selfless service that had been instilled in him over the course of his 22 years in the Army made it an easy decision for him. It was the perfect ending to his career, as he is retiring on Aug. 1.

“With all the negativity that we see,” Johns said, “I was hoping that there was still good left in the world.”

That good came in the form of an old friend, Rob Harmon.

Sign up for our e-newsletters