BALTIMORE — On the field, their ex-teams are huge NFL rivals.
Off the field, brothers Maake (May-ah-kay) Kemoeatu (Kee-mo-ee-ah-tu), an ex-Baltimore Raven, and Chris Kemoeatu, an ex-Pittsburgh Steeler, are closer than close. When Chris pro football career was cut short because he needed a kidney transplant, his older brother, whose organ was good match, quit the Ravens and donated his kidney to his 31-year-old brother.
University of Maryland Medical Center transplant surgeon Dr. Stephen Bartlett said Wednesday that the surgery done Aug. 27 was a great success, and both brothers are on their way to recovery.
He couldnt play anymore, and I didnt want to be in a position where he couldnt play but Id keep playing, the 35-year-old former Ravens nose tackle said. As soon as my brothers health was at risk I wanted to stop everything.
The procedure itself was daunting for the University of Maryland medical staff, as what was an asset on the football field proved to be an obstacle on the operating table.
When I first met Chris, I said, 385 pounds is a new record, Bartlett said. And he said Maakes kidney was one-and-a-half times the size of a normal one. The Ravens listed Maakes weight at 345 pounds when he last played for the team.
Man, when that thing came out I felt like somebody threw me a small football, he said.
The former Raven said that when the family found out that his brother, who had been suffering from kidney problems since the eighth grade, would need a transplant, he immediately volunteered, quitting the Ravens in 2012.
Im the oldest of the seven kids, and its my responsibility to take care of my younger brothers and sisters, Maake said. If my younger siblings need blood, itll be my blood. If they need a kidney, itll have to be my kidney.
The brothers began preparing for the surgery a year and a half ago. But when the time came, the ex-Steeler called his brother with surprising news: He first needed a coronary bypass. Maake said he comforted his brother in the only way he knew how: with football analogies.
I knew in my mind that hes fighting a kidney and now he has to have heart surgery, Maake said. I said to him, its going to be OK. I talked to him in football aspects. I said, all right, were not going to get this in the first down, but were fourth and long right now and we have to go deep. Well make it through the first downthe heart surgeryto the end zone: the kidney transplant.
Chris Kemoeatu called the transplant a humbling experience.
It definitely brought us closer as brothers, offensive lineman of seven seasons said.
The brothers said after they fully recover which usually takes roughly six weeks they hope to return to their native Hawaii. Neither brother has any concrete plans to return to football, though both said they received plenty of moral support from their respective teammates in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. The teams are both in the NFLs AFC North Division, and play each other twice during the regular football season.
Those guys are always asking me, did you do the transplant? Did you do the transplant? The Ravens have always been a big support, Maake said. I havent gotten anything from the Steelers yet, but Im waiting for them to send me something.