Tennessee Firefighter Donates Kidney To Fellow Firefighter

Firehouse.Com News

Tennessee firefighter Charles Martinez went above and beyond the call of duty to help a fellow firefighter in need when he underwent the first surgery of his life to donate a kidney.

Martinez came forward when he heard that Lt. Russ Brewer needed a kidney transplant and his sisters had been ruled out as donors. He called the transplant coordinator and arranged to be tested himself.

"You see somebody hurting and you tell them, 'I'll do whatever I can to help out.' I took it to the extreme I guess," Martinez said.

The transplant operation took place on March 19 at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and has been a success. Martinez came back on duty Wednesday and Brewer is scheduled to come back on May 28th, with no restrictions.

"They're getting ready to do budget cuts around here, and they're joking that they're keeping me around for spare parts," Martinez said Wednesday during his first day back on the job. "It's been going on and on."

Martinez, 34, has been with the Maryville, Tennessee Fire Department for eight years. He moved east from his home in Tombstone, Arizona to get work laying bricks with a friend, but within a few months he found a job at the fire department.

"From opposite ends of the nation, to come together in a little town, to be a match and be willing to give - that's more than a coincidence," said Fire Operations Commander David Hodges. "It has to be an act of God."

Brewer, 46, has been with the department for over 26 years. He was born with kidney disease and with only 60 percent of one kidney functioning. His parents were told he would live to be six months old. Growing up, he knew he would need a transplant. It was just a matter of when.

In September 2002 he was down to just nine percent kidney function and was in and out of work. During the past three years he has missed one and a half to two years of work, he said, and was on the verge of requiring kidney dialysis.

"He wasn't able to fulfill his duties, he had no energy," Hodges said. "He was out sick, used up all his sick time and vacation. He was down to nothing, and was on disability."

Brewer said several firefighters offered to get tested as potential donors. "People tell you that, but I wouldn't ask anybody for that," he said. He didn't know Martinez was getting tested until he was three weeks into the process. It took a month and a half to complete the compatibility testing.

"He said, 'Yeah, I told you I'd do what I could,'" Brewer said. "It's unbelievable. He's an amazing guy."

The transplant operation took about three hours and the firefighters remained hospitalized for a week. Brewer had to return a few times to deal with minor complications, but is now in the clear.

"How do you say thank you to somebody who does that for you? He basically saved my life," Brewer said.

Brewer also thanked fire officials, his colleagues, his and Martinez's family members, and his fiancee for all their support.

"They have supported me and Charles to the utmost, anything we needed anytime we needed it," he said. He also thanked God. "I really think Charles got a job with us for a reason. It just seems like he was meant to be here," he said.

Martinez says he was just helping out a friend. "People say what a remarkable thing I've done. It doesn't feel like I've done something remarkable," he said. "It just feels like I've helped somebody."

The Maryville Fire Department has 38 full time firefighters and is located in eastern Tennessee, about 20 miles south of Knoxville.

A fund has been established to help Martinez and Brewer with the portion of medical expenses that are not covered by their insurance. Contributions can be sent to the Martinez-Brewer Fund at the Maryville Municipal Credit Union at 321 West Broadway Ave. in Maryville, Tennessee 37801.