Being part of a team with a goal was nothing new to Josh who, at 35, is two years older than Daniel. The former wide receiver spent seven years in pro football, including two seasons in Washington, starred at Virginia Tech and grew up in D.C., where he graduated from H.D. Woodson High School.
Teamwork and victories were part of Morgan’s DNA, but this was different — and it was personal.
“I just didn’t want him in pain anymore,” Josh said, when recalling the decision to donate one of his kidneys to Daniel. “I just wanted to see him back to his regular life: Energetic, enjoying his daughters and really living life and not spending so much time in dialysis and all that. I just hated seeing him in pain.”
Daniel was not only in pain, but he also absolutely needed one of Josh’s kidneys to stay alive. He had Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD 5), which is also called End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD).
As Dr. Matthew Cooper of the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute puts it: “It’s the end of native kidney function and a replacement is necessary.”
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic had just started to take hold and hospitals across the country had to put most medical procedures on hold.
Fortunately, the Morgan brothers were on the team with Dr. Cooper at MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, and they ended up on a pair of operating tables on schedule in March. Daniel received a new kidney along with a new lease on life.
“I think it’s important to recognize that that transplant is an essential surgery,” Dr. Cooper said. “We found that it’s about 200 people that are involved in every transplant, and then in this time of this pandemic it’s more like 2,000.”
“The health care system at MedStar Georgetown put everything in place to allow us to do this transplant safely by having COVID-free units for both our donor and recipients and by having the availability of testing.”
It’s now August, and Daniel Morgan is back to work and busy with his family — including his two daughters: 13-year-old Harmony and 14-month-old Ari.
Dialysis is now a distant memory, and Daniel can hardly contain his smile when he describes how he feels.
“I really feel like a new man. It is crazy how much energy I have now,” Daniel said.
“I get much, much better sleep, and I have picked my weight back up over the recovery time. It’s honestly a feeling that I’d never felt before and so it’s definitely a blessing. I really thank God for Mr. Cooper and my brother for saving my life.”
Saving Daniel Morgan’s life through a kidney transplant was very much a family journey. In fact Morgan’s father Dennis, who is 60, was originally identified as a healthy match and volunteered immediately to be a donor for his son. That’s when Josh stepped up and decided to get tested to be a match for Daniel.
“Once I discovered I was a match I knew everything else was going to work out for the best and be OK,” Josh said. “There was never doubt in my mind that he was going to be good, and I was going to be good and we would live out our lives to become old, old, men.”
Daniel smiles broadly when he thinks about the love and support that surrounded him throughout his battle with kidney disease. His mother Lawanda and their other brother, 30-year-old Adam, were always there for Daniel, but there is something very natural that it was Josh who donated one of his kidneys.
“My brother has always been the one to look after me going all the way back to elementary school,” Daniel said.
“He is my role model. Before any of this I always just wanted to be like my older brother. I mean I really can’t say it enough: He is my life saver.”
Josh is Daniel’s life saver, but they are still very much brothers, and that means the friendly banter that has been going back and forth all of their lives continues to this day.
“There definitely was a lot of competition growing up,” said Josh with a chuckle. “So I guess now that he’s healthy again he’s got no excuse.”
The Morgan brothers hope others will benefit from hearing about their feel good story.
Dr. Cooper estimates there are 100,000 people in the U.S. right now in need of a kidney transplant. There are not enough deceased donors to match the need, and that’s why living donors like Josh Morgan are so important in the quest to save lives.
“It’s terrific when brothers and sisters are available, but with all those people that need a kidney transplant, we can find someone who can be that right match and they don’t have to be related,” Dr. Cooper said.
“Our goal is to have people like Daniel off of dialysis, and Josh was that hero. He’s the one who came forward to do that for Daniel. I know there’s probably a lot of other heroes out there who would be able to do something so incredibly selfless and to be so heroic for another individual.”
Daniel now advocates for kidney donation wholeheartedly.
“I encourage anybody and everybody to donate. You will save a life and you will become a superhero and there’s many, many more blessings will come your way.”
Those who are interested in learning more about living donor kidney donations can find information about the lifesaving procedures on MedStar Georgetown’s website.