On the field, there’s no love lost between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, but over the last couple summers, years of AFC North rancor — and the spirit of sibling rivalry — have taken a back seat when one former Raven had the chance to save the life of his brother, a longtime starter in Pittsburgh.
Former Ravens nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu appeared in 76 games over the course of five seasons in Baltimore during his nine-year career, and for six of those seasons, he was joined in the NFL by his little brother Chris, an offensive guard who played in 75 career games for Pittsburgh.
Each a Super Bowl winner, the brothers’ bond dates to their childhood, first in Tonga and then in Hawaii, and both would go on to play college ball at Utah. And as the oldest of seven Kemoeatu children, Ma’ake was always something of a role model to his younger siblings, Chris included.
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So when Ma’ake learned early last year that the lifelong kidney pain that ended Chris’ career after the 2011 season was actually a result of advanced kidney disease that required a transplant, Ma’ake called it a career. He had just won a Super Bowl to close the 2012 season and was immediately willing to offer up one of his kidneys to help save his brother.
As it turned out, Ma’ake was a match to donate to Chris, and on Aug. 27 — once both of the brothers had lost considerable weight in order to qualify for the procedure — doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center performed the procedure, which so far appears to have been successful.
“The doctor said we could pass as twins to do this surgery,” Ma’ake told reporters during a press conference at the hospital Wednesday, via FTW. “My dad wanted to do it, and we kind of got into it because I didn’t want him to do it. I’m the oldest of seven kids, so it was my responsibility to take care of my younger brothers and sisters.
“If my brother or any of my siblings needed blood, they have to have my blood. If any of my siblings needed a kidney, it would have to be my kidney.”
Dr. Stephen Bartlett, the physician who performed the surgery, told FTW that Chris’ new kidney has been “functioning beautifully” through the first three weeks of the six-week recovery period. And provided that everything goes well over the next few weeks, the Kemoeatu brothers plan to return to Hawaii, where they can go back to being rivals — albeit with a new lifelong bond — once again.
"A true ‘thank you’ to him for making the sacrifice. It’s really been a humbling experience," Chris told reporters of his brother, via WBAL. "I have nothing but love for him."