Friday, February 6, 2009

The Ultimate Wingman

When I was on active duty, a lot of Air Force leaders talked about "the Air Force Family" and emphasized how the Air Force takes care of its own; that we're all "wingmen." Some Airmen (particularly those in trouble) thought the concepts were just a lot of empty air. But, for the most part, the concepts are true and they work. I've seen some really amazing examples of how Airmen do care for, and take care of, each other. The institutional "Air Force Family" may falter at times, and there may be times when an Airman's wingman may be absent; but for the most part Airmen really do take care of each other. The story below is a great example.

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M., Feb. 5, 2009 - On April 30, 2008, Air Force Staff Sgt. Andrew Jones became what some would call the "ultimate wingman."

Jones, a senior controller in the Maintenance Operations Center of the 58th Maintenance Operations Squadron here, gave one of his kidneys to Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam Johnson, a fellow controller who had been in total renal failure for more than 22 months.

Johnson was suffering from a rare autoimmune disease known as IgA nephropathy, which meant his body had turned against itself and his immune system was killing his own kidneys. He was undergoing long and painful dialysis treatments to remove the toxins from his blood that his kidneys no longer could.

"Adam would come to work on Monday and he would just be puffy. There's no other way to describe it," Air Force Maj. Mark O'Reilly, 58th MOS commander, said. "His skin was ashen, and there were bags under his eyes, but through it all, he never let it affect him or his professionalism."

Johnson's family all submitted to screening tests, but none were found to be a viable donor. Six members of the 58th MOS also volunteered to undergo screening; however, all but one were quickly eliminated. The sixth, another MOC controller, passed all but the last test before finding out that she, too, was not a viable donor.

After almost 18 months of dialysis, the prospects of finding a kidney were starting to dim.

Then, in the summer of 2007, Jones joined the MOC team as a weapons system controller. He heard about Johnson's fight for life and his need for a kidney, and without any hesitation, he volunteered to undergo the screening process.

The screening process is long and arduous. Besides the many compatibility tests and invasive procedures to ensure a donor kidney will be accepted by its host body, potential donors also must undergo many hours of counseling and psychological screenings. The tests are for the safety of both the donor and the recipient and are meant to ensure the donation is being made under proper legal and ethical circumstances.

For Jones, this meant that many tests had to be performed after long nights as the senior controller during the midnight shift. Then, finally, on April 1, doctors cleared Jones to donate one of his kidneys to Johnson.

"At first, I thought it was an April Fools joke," Jones said.

The surgery took place April 30. For six hours, doctors worked to remove the kidney from Jones and implant it into Johnson.

"The kidney 'pinked up' immediately," Lorissa Johnson, the recipient's wife, said. "Before long, the color returned to Adam's face and his energy started coming back. He had so much energy the nurses had to threaten to tie him down to keep him in bed!"

Meanwhile, recovery for Jones was painful, at times making even breathing unbearable. Family, friends and members of the 58th MOS stood by him, and despite the struggles, Jones never complained or regretted the decision.

"I felt that, for whatever reason, I was meant to be in the MOC and to help [Johnson]," Jones said.

Johnson said he'll always feel gratitude toward Jones.

"It is truly a humbling experience to have to ask someone outside of my family to give up an organ," he said. "[Jones'] decision to donate rescued me from a miserable existence on dialysis. His gift gave me my life back and saved my military career, and I will always be grateful for that."

Both sergeants have fully recovered and continue to work side by side in the MOC.

In my book, SSgt Jones is a hero and a wonderful example of how the Air Force Family helps its own.

1 comment:

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