Brothers in arms ... and other parts
FARGO -- Spc. John Chase once knew a world of dangers lurking in hidden roadside bombs and snipers who could be taking aim as he and his fellow soldiers patrolled the villages of Afghanistan.
One of his soldier buddies, Sgt. Francisco "Cisco" Raatz, would rescue Chase, on a battlefield and from an enemy neither member of the North Dakota National Guard could have predicted.
Early last year, when Chase was home on leave and vacationing with his family in Disneyland, he became ill.
At first doctors dismissed his symptoms as nothing more serious than constipation. Earlier, he'd shrugged off his ill health as a mere flu bug.
But once back home in Grand Forks, after seeking another opinion at Aurora Clinic, his doctor immediately ordered a blood test.
The results came back with the force of an explosion: his kidneys had shut down.
"I didn't know what to think," he said Friday. "I really didn't."
Chase immediately started kidney dialysis to cleanse his blood of impurities. After three days of treatments, he lost more than 20 pounds - water that his failing kidneys couldn't flush from his bloated body.
More bad news would befall Chase. His kidneys had failed because they had been targeted by antibodies. The enemy was within: his immune system had gone haywire.
His tour of duty was over. But his medical battle was just beginning.
He immediately started dialysis treatments three times a week, sitting in a chair with two needles in his arm, for sessions of four hours.
"It took a toll on a person," said Chase, age 43.
Finally, after a year and a half, the antibodies had run their course, making Chase eligible for a kidney transplant. Now the challenge would be finding a match.
Meanwhile, still on duty in Afghanistan with a unit of military police, Raatz learned that his buddy Chase was in need of a donor kidney.
Once he learned his blood type made him a potential donor, Raatz decided that, once back home, he would be tested to see if he was a match.
Raatz, the very first to be tested, was a match. It's not unusual for 70 or even 80 people to be tested before a match is found.
Would he give one of his two
"It wasn't really a very hard decision at all," Raatz said, recalling his decision to donate. "It was an opportunity to help a good friend of mine."
Before Raatz, now 29, was married, John and Becky Chase had him over at their home for meals and camaraderie. Now the chance had come for him to return the favor.
Chase was moved by his friend's willingness to undergo major surgery and give up a kidney on his behalf.
"I was in shock," Chase said. "By a miracle he happened to be the one who matched. It worked out nice."
The two men had surgery Sept. 27 at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo. The two men met briefly before their operations.
Once again, Chase thanked Raatz for his generosity and sacrifice.
"I felt bad for him," Chase said. "He was losing a part and I was gaining one."
At a news conference Friday, the two soldiers were asked to explain the camaraderie between soldiers, and how fellow soldiers can develop bonds that can be as strong -- or stronger -- than familial ties.
"You really get close to each other," Chase said. "There is the shared experience of serving together in a war, and the bond that comes from living together in close quarters, with 40 or 60 soldiers in the same tent."
Both men have recuperated from surgery, although it took Raatz longer. He's back at work, as a transportation security officer. Chase, meanwhile, is hoping a medical review board will allow him to stay in the Guard and the First Battalion, 188th Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
"I love what I do," he said. "It's very important to me."
Springer is a writer for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.