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Pool Rivals Reconcile as One Gifts Kidney to Save the Other

He was a valuable companion to keep close by.

A man from Pennsylvania, who had once publicly criticized his pool rival on Facebook, later made a remarkable gesture of reconciliation by donating his kidney to the same competitor a decade after their feud began.

Russ Redhead, aged 42, came to know about James Harris Jr.’s urgent need for a kidney during a pool tournament, leading him to selflessly offer his organ to his former adversary on February 8 at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Recalling the poignant moment before their surgery, Redhead humorously mentioned how he comforted Harris by holding his hand and reassuring him, “It’s going to be OK, buddy.”

Despite their past rivalry, with Redhead even posting a disgruntled message on Facebook accusing Harris of unfair play during a pool competition in Las Vegas, the two men found themselves united in an unexpected twist of fate.

Ten years ago, the idea of them undergoing surgery together as friends seemed unimaginable. However, as circumstances evolved, their relationship transformed into a deep bond of friendship.

Following the Vegas tournament where tensions ran high, Redhead removed his critical post and extended an apology to Harris during a local game in Maryland, setting the stage for a newfound camaraderie between them.

Their friendship blossomed further as they crossed paths at various Maryland tournaments, with Redhead often participating in events within the state due to its proximity to his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The turning point came when Redhead encountered Harris’ wife, Denise Epps-Harris, who revealed the critical state of her husband’s health and his urgent need for a kidney donor.

Having faced severe health challenges, including kidney failure due to complications from COVID-19, Harris had to undergo multiple surgeries and dialysis treatments, eventually leading to him quitting his job as a truck driver.

Impressed by Harris’ resilience and determination to continue excelling in pool despite his health struggles, Redhead was moved to offer his kidney upon learning about the dire situation.

As the process of organ donation unfolded, with Redhead undergoing rigorous health assessments to ensure compatibility, Harris remained unaware of the unfolding events to manage his expectations and emotions.

The transplant surgery, which took place on February 8, encountered a minor setback when they faced a flat tire en route to the hospital, requiring them to be towed to the medical facility by Harris’ stepfather.

Despite the initial hiccup, the operation was successful, with doctors describing Redhead’s kidney as the “Cadillac of kidneys,” signifying its exceptional quality. Both men recovered swiftly post-surgery, with Redhead even joking about Harris’ vitality compared to his own slower pace of recovery.

In the days following the surgery, Harris wasted no time in returning to his passion for pool, attempting a game in his basement where the idea of a kidney-for-a-game challenge had originated between him and Redhead.

Looking ahead, Harris is gearing up to participate in a tournament in his hometown of Glen Burnie, Maryland, marking a significant milestone in his post-transplant journey. Additionally, he and his wife are planning a visit to Redhead’s pool hall opening in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, further solidifying their enduring friendship.

Reflecting on their remarkable journey, Redhead acknowledges the profound bond they now share, emphasizing that while they may not be best friends, they have undoubtedly become inseparable BFFs. Epps-Harris echoes this sentiment, declaring Redhead as not just a friend but a cherished member of their family.