It has been written that the game of football creates binding ties that transcend social circles and last years after the gridiron has been left behind.
For two Scott County men who have dedicated years of volunteer service to the community’s youth football league, that idea could not be more accurate.
Paul “Crock” Owens, of Oneida, and Justin Goodman, of Robbins, had never met until both became affiliated with the Scott County Storm football league. But when one man found himself facing a major medical need five years later, the other did not hesitate to step up.
Owens suffered kidney failure in 2011, a complication of high blood pressure. He resigned himself to a long wait on the organ transplant registry. The average wait time for a kidney is five years.
In the meantime, he was forced to spend nearly three hours a day — at least five days a week — undergoing dialysis.
That’s where Goodman stepped in.
Owens, a 45-year-old industrial worker, and Goodman, a 34-year-old FedEx delivery man, met when both became involved with the Storm football league as coaches. Their sons, Malaki and Micah, were the same age and played together.
The men became fast friends.
“It became a family thing,” Goodman said.
The families — Goodman and his wife, Terra, and Owens and his wife, April — would get together for dinner. Their sons would spend the night together at one house or the other.
Eighteen months ago, Owens’ life was turned upside down when he went into kidney failure.
“It was just so quick,” his mother-in-law, Mable Smith, said. “He hadn’t been sick.”
While hypertension can, over time, cause kidney damage or complete kidney failure, Owens’ condition was accelerated by the fact that he was only born with one kidney — though he did not know it until that day a year and a half ago.
“When my kidney failed, they did an ultrasound and couldn’t find the other one,” he said. “I went 43 years not knowing I only had one kidney.”
Owens was immediately placed on dialysis — the only alternative for a patient suffering from kidney failure. It is usually a disabling condition due to the time required for treatment. But with kids to raise — Crock and April have two children and he has two more from a previous marriage — and a family to provide for, disability was not an option.
So Owens opted for home dialysis, which can be more complicated because there are no medically-trained personnel to assist. Each day for 18 months, he made the one-hour drive to Clinton, where he is employed by Carlisle. After eight hours on the job, he would make the hour drive back home and hook up to the dialysis machine for three hours of treatment.
And, somehow, he still managed to find time to devote to the Storm league, where his job as director is to make sure everything from practices to games run smoothly and that Scott County’s youth who want to play football have the opportunity to do so.
“It’s a real depressing feeling knowing that you have to be on dialysis,” Owens said. “But for me and my family, it was something I had to do.”
Meanwhile, as the process of being placed on the transplant registry progressed, it was determined that there was no one in Owens’ family who was a suitable donor. The Goodmans — Justin and Terra — had a decision to make. It was not a decision, however, that required a lot of thought. Both were tested and both matched.
The original plan was for Terra to donate a kidney. As it turned out, a minor health issue prevented her from doing so.
So, on Feb. 7, Crock and Justin went into the hospital for surgery. It was a success, and both men are well on their way to full recovery.
“It’s just amazing,” Owens said. “Justin is a good friend but he went above and beyond what he should’ve done. He’s more like a hero than anything.”
For his part, Goodman is relatively nonchalant about what most would call an extraordinary act of human kindness.
“The time required to do dialysis every night . . . it just takes so much,” Goodman said. “I would hate to live my life like that and I would hate to try to raise my children in that manner. I hope someone would do the same for me.”
Goodman, who has three children, understood the toll of his friend’s situation.
“Dialysis is not just something you can run around the house and do,” he said. “It takes time away, time that you can’t spend with your family. He’s trying to be a part of his kids’ life; trying to work and support his family. It was just the right thing to do.”
Doctors say that while Goodman’s risk for kidney disease in the future will be slightly higher, the number is not great.
“If the average person has a 10 percent risk, I have a 15 percent risk,” Goodman said.
The story did not end with the successful operation on Feb. 7. Goodman will be required to be off work until March 25 — a total of six weeks. He had two weeks of vacation that he took, “to soften the blow.” Then his employer — Morgan & Morgan, Inc., a FedEx contractor based in Speedwell, Tenn. — stepped to the plate, offering to pay him for the rest of the time that he was off work.
“He really stepped up,” Goodman said. “I was surprised.”
Goodman has been nominated for a humanitarian award through FedEx. As for Owens, he’ll require a bit more time to be completely back on his feet, but he should be free of the daily dialysis requirements — one less time commitment to worry about when football season starts this fall.
“Justin gave me new life,” Owens said. “I’ll never be able to repay him.”