Staff Photo: John Bohn Taylor Green, age 33, donated a kidney to Joey Knowles, age 32 of Bethlehem. Both are recovering well, nearly two weeks after their surgeries.
BETHLEHEM -- Joey Knowles and Taylor Green goof around in the backyard of Knowles' Barrow County home, needling each other like a pair of old friends.
True, they both grew up in Lawrenceville, about six miles of Ga. Highway 29 between them. They're both strong-faithed men in their early 30s, a wife and two kids apiece. Knowles is a little on the quieter side of the spectrum, but both are perfectly affable.
You would never guess this was only about the third time they had hung out, or that the second time was en route to the hospital. Then again, you would never guess that Green had undergone about four months of rigorous medical testing just to find out if he was eligible to donate a kidney to Knowles, whom he had hardly met.
Given how healthy both look, you wouldn't be able to tell that, three weeks ago, both went under the knife.
"He really doesn't know how much he means to me and what he's done for me," Knowles says. "This means that me and my family can have a healthy, good life. I can play with my kids. I can run around with my kids."
At age 26, Knowles was given the news that he had a chronic kidney disease called FSGS, which, in an oversimplified sense, leads to scarring of the kidney. Because the kidney acts as a type of sponge, scar tissue essentially "clogs" the organ's pores, greatly reducing kidney function.
By April, 32-year-old Knowles was down to about 18 percent kidney function.
His mother's office, the Sugarloaf branch of Keller Williams Realty, decided to have a fundraiser. Green -- a loan officer with The Covenant Group, one of the firm's preferred lenders -- had T-shirts made up dubbing it "Joey's Journey," the words faith, hope and courage scrawled across.
About 100 people showed up throughout the Saturday barbecue. To Green, it wasn't enough.
"I was like, we've got 183 agents, and I expected at least 183 agents to come. I don't care what you're doing," Green said. "I was really upset. Not because I knew Joey, I didn't know him from Adam's apple. But I was really embarrassed for us."
"At any event, when you as a human go, you're like OK, I'll buy a couple raffle tickets, you go home and you move on. I was like, not this time. Not this time. I was really upset."
By Monday he was determined Knowles would be getting a new kidney -- from him.
"You kind of felt like the fundraiser was awesome, but that was going to be it," said Paige Powers, Keller Williams-Sugarloaf's team leader. "And then to find out that Taylor had met Joey and just decided, 'I'm going to do this if I can.' It was almost surreal."
Green soon found out giving a kidney isn't all that easy. Over the course of the next four months, he estimated that he made 20 trips to Emory Healthcare locations and various clinics, 10 of which were all-day type visits -- blood tests, urine tests, MRIs, CT scans and stress tests galore.
Beforehand, he was "terrified" of needles, to the point where he had recently tried to ride out a case of pneumonia to escape a shot of penicillin. Afterward, "you can prick me wherever you want, man."
"They said that the president of the United States does not even get as good of a health exam," Green said. "And they were being very serious."
At one point, the "minute clinic" that did one of Green's urine tests told him he had failed. Bullheaded by then, Green took another test with his private doctor on the way to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for vacation. He passed.
By the time it was all done, there was good news. There are seven components to being a match for organ donation, three of which need to be met for doctors to give the go-ahead. Green was a perfect seven for seven.
On Aug. 12, his healthy kidney was put inside Knowles.
"I was real honest with him ... I told him I might have been the person that said, well that door's closed (after he failed a test), I'm not a donor," Knowles said. "If Taylor had said no, I'd be in a dialysis clinic three times a week for four hours at a time."
As it turned out, the transplant was one of five now tied to the same Keller Williams office: Agents Jen Bowman and Patti Martinez previously donated kidneys to siblings, and agent Andy VanBueren has been the recipient of two.
"It's been amazing," Powers said. "It kind of feels like it's a legacy."
The legacy is one Knowles and Green are living up to. As they joke and discuss Knowles' aspirations as a barbecue master, they also talk about the greater lesson in it all. Only three weeks into recovery, they've already used their experience to share their testimony.
"Very rarely do you actually get a chance to show yourself that you know the world doesn't revolve around you," Green said. "If this wasn't about God and it was only about me, I wouldn't have done it. I would have been selfish and kept it for myself."
Added Knowles: "How many people have been able to tell their story like this?"