An ordinary call ended up in life-saving surgery. This former college roommate got in touch with a friend he had not seen for 21 years when he came to Detroit. He ended up giving his sick friend another chance at life by donating part of his liver to him.
Steven Robinson, 57, was in Detroit for a family trip. He then found out that his old friend, Richard Koonce, 62, lived nearby. He called him and came over to visit. When he saw him, he was shocked to see Richard’s significant weight loss.
Richard has been battling Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis, or PSC, since 2019. PSC is a chronic liver disease that causes bile ducts to become inflamed and scarred, eventually leading to liver damage. He had tried exploring various treatment options but to no avail. The only option left is to find a living liver donor for a transplant. The liver regenerates and can grow cells. Thus, a donor’s liver will grow back even after he has given a part of it to someone.
“Man, I’ve got to do something,” Steven told NBC News. He talked to his wife about this on the way home to New Jersey. His wife, Natalie, agreed. They then met their three children, and all of them gave their dad the green light to push through with his idea.
Richard’s wife, Marion, and his daughter, Morgan, offered to be the possible donors also. But he needed someone who would be a better physical match. Steven was perfect for that. They also have the same blood type, 0+.
Steven has special reasons why he agreed to this. He said, “I think it was a spiritual thing. I always had love for the brother. And I could see something was wrong. I could see it in his eyes. And he didn’t have the weight. So, it was a culmination of things.”
He added, “I had rejoined the church two years before the pandemic and found God, who led me through my spiritual battle. And I lost my father to the pandemic, which was tough.”
This Good Samaritan also wanted to set an example for his kids. “I also looked at it as something my children could look at it—not necessarily giving an organ—but being considerate of other people in life. There was a lot of prayers; I’m still praying on it. But I believe it’s the right thing to do.”
Richard was sitting in church at a funeral when Steven first called and texted him that all the test results showed that he was a strong candidate. He also told him that he was committed to being the donor. His wife cried upon reading Steven’s message. “She cried. I hate what this has put her through. But she and my daughters have been steadying forces,” he told NBC News.
Everything was set. The surgery was performed last Valentine’s Day at a hospital in Cleveland. It would take six to eight weeks for the donor to recover, and Richard has six months to recuperate.
The doctors warned them of possible complications that could arise, especially on Richard’s end. “There is a very high success rate for this surgery,” Scantlebury, who has performed more than 2,000 transplants, said. “We usually tell people, ‘Your risk of dying is no greater than the standard in life.’”
Despite the uncertainty, Richard’s confidence is in his faith. He explained, “We are leaving that to God.”
These friends turned brothers said their lifelong bond stemmed from the relationship formed when they were still students. Black colleges and universities have this, especially, Norfolk State, where they came from.
“There’s something about the nurturing, the love you feel there,” Steven said. “And that time living with Richard, 1990 and 1991, attending NSU, was when I grew up. It was special. It had to be. Look at us now.”
This grateful friend has nothing but appreciation and good words for his hero-friend. “I’m like, ‘Wow! This brother has love for me.’ When I think about it, it’s a hell of a thing to do.”
He was sure that “But if the situation were reversed, I’d be like, ‘Is this what it takes for you to live longer? Man, let me check to see if I’m a good match.’ I really would. I would do the same thing for him.”
Richard and Steven found a gem in each other. The distance and time apart only made their friendship stronger. May we all find a friend who sticks closer than a brother, and be that friend to someone else also.
“There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24