Former Ravens Player Donates Kidney to His Brother A Former Steelers Player

Brothers Christopher and Ma’ake Kemoeatu had both enjoyed successful careers in the NFL, each earning a Super Bowl ring -- Ma’ake with the Baltimore Ravens and Chris twice with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  They were living in Hawaii surrounded by family and leading a charity to support high school athletes when Chris’ kidneys began to weaken.  An early childhood illness had damaged Chris’ kidneys, and he was told he needed a kidney transplant.

Chris’ search for care led him to Matthew Weir, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Division of Nephrology, at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.   Dr. Weir helped Chris avoid dialysis as long as possible and worked with the transplant team at University of Maryland to prepare Chris for a transplant.  Chris learned that having a friend or relative donate their kidney was an option that could lead to a shorter wait time for an organ, and could lead to more successful transplant surgery. 

“When Chris came to me, his goal was to restore his kidney function and get his life back to normal,” said Weir. “We spent the past year together working towards that goal and helping him overcome some medical challenges that could have kept him from being able to receive a kidney from any donor.”

Press briefing for Kemoeatu living donor kidney transplant.

But it wasn’t just any donor that Chris wanted; his older brother, Ma’ake, had volunteered to be his living donor and was hopeful to be a match.  It turned out he was.

The surgical team for both brothers was led by Stephen Bartlett, MD, Chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  Dr. Bartlett is also the Peter Angelos Distinguished Professor of Surgery at the university, and Surgeon-in-Chief and SVP, University of Maryland Medical System. Dr. Bartlett oversaw the coronary artery bypass surgery that was performed on Chris this summer to correct a pre-existing heart condition – a condition discovered during his thorough transplant work-up.

“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,” said Bartlett.   “With two family members undergoing surgery nearly simultaneously, it takes a coordinated team of four transplant surgeons, nurses, nephrologists, anesthesiologists, transplant coordinators and many other support team members to ensure successful surgeries and support the family,” added Bartlett.

After a year of testing and medical preparation, the transplant occurred on August 27, 2014 at the University of Maryland Medical Center.   Both surgeries were a success, and both patients were out of the hospital and on the road to recovery within a few days.

The brothers worked together as a team through the entire journey, supporting each other before the transplant and now afterwards as they continue to recover. For most organ recipients, the bond with their living donor is indescribable - even more special when their donor is family. For these two brothers, it may even feel better than a Super Bowl win. 


Kemoeatu group shot at press briefing
Chris and Maake Kemoeatu
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