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Lifelong Friendship Formed Between Former Pool Rivals Through Kidney Transplant

Two individuals who were once rivals in a high-stakes pool tournament have forged a lasting friendship following a significant event—a kidney transplant—that brought them together.

James Harris Jr. from Glen Burnie, Maryland, and Russ Redhead from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, initially crossed paths approximately ten years ago at The Bank Shot Bar & Grill in Maryland during an American Poolplayers Association competition.

During this tournament, where they were both competing for the grand prize of an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas for a chance to further advance in the competition and win a larger reward, their paths intertwined.

Following his defeat to Harris, Redhead expressed his disappointment on Facebook, criticizing Harris in a post. However, after mutual friends defended Harris in the comments section, Redhead eventually removed the post and extended an apology to Harris.

Over time, Redhead, 42, came to realize the true character of Harris, acknowledging him as a genuinely good person. Their camaraderie blossomed as they attended tournaments together, placed bets jointly, and developed a strong bond.

In 2020, Harris, who had been grappling with kidney disease, received the devastating news of complete renal failure after contracting COVID-19. Subsequently, he underwent surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center to initiate dialysis.

Harris, now 54, shared his journey of being placed on the transplant waiting list, aware that finding a matching donor kidney could potentially take years. In a heartwarming turn of events, his wife Denise, a rehabilitation service manager at UMMC, volunteered to be his kidney donor.

Despite her initial ineligibility as a donor, Denise actively participated in a transplant education program called Big Ask, Big Give by the National Kidney Foundation to seek potential living donors for her husband.

During a pool tournament in November 2022, Denise confided in Redhead about her husband’s health struggles, leading to a pivotal moment. Redhead, upon learning about the requirements for being a donor, selflessly offered to donate his kidney to Harris.

After confirming that he was a perfect match for Harris, Redhead and Harris underwent a successful kidney transplant on February 8, 2024, at UMMC.

A month post-surgery, an update on Harris’ recovery was provided by a caregiver, highlighting his positive progress and successful transition to outpatient care.

Reflecting on his decision to donate his kidney, Redhead expressed that it was the right choice, emphasizing the profound impact of potentially saving a life without significant personal sacrifice.