For the last 30 years, when Arthur Johnson bows his head during the holiday season, he gives thanks to his big brother with a bigger heart.
If not for the kindness and sacrifice of his brother U.D. Johnson Jr., Arthur’s life certainly would have been different.
He may never have married, started a family or worked full-time.
He could have taken dialysis treatments the rest of his life.
In 1991, Arthur Johnson, then 25, was suffering from renal failure and his brother, four years older, was serving in the U.S. Navy in California. He returned to Middletown on emergency leave and was tested to see if he was a possible kidney donor.
He was more than potential.
He was perfect.
When his blood work came back, the doctors said the brothers could have been identical twins.
Johnson said his brother never hesitated to donate one of his kidneys.
“He gave up his career to take care of me,” Johnson said. “There never was a shadow of doubt what he’d do.”
The elder Johnson said doctors wanted him to wait two days to think about his decision.
“Let’s go,” he told the doctors. “Let’s get it done.”
He called donating a kidney to his brother “a no brainer.”
So on Nov. 20, 1991, the organ transplant took place at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. U.D. Johnson was released after two days; his brother was released one week later. Remember this was 30 years ago. A lot has changed in the medical profession since 1991.
One thing that hasn’t change is the impact of an organ donation.
“It’s a blessing for me,” the younger Johnson said. “It allowed me to start my life over. Gave me a new beginning. I’m truly blessed to have a brother to care that much to do that.”
The Johnsons are extremely close, they said. They live a few minutes apart, talk about every day, and three times have unintentionally exchanged the same Christmas present.
U.D. Johnson, 59, a 1980 Middletown High School graduate, left the Navy after 10 years. He was a captain at the Warren Correctional Institution for 27 years and has served as bailiff in Middletown Municipal Court for two years.
Arthur Johnson said he was also blessed to have Michelle, his girlfriend at the time and now his wife for 28 years. She never left his side.
“You got to give her a lot of credit,” he said of his wife. “It was almost like God had a spiritual plan. He definitely was involved in this.”
They have two sons, Joshua, 28, and Kobie, 24.
Arthur Johnson, 55, a 1984 Middletown High School graduate, has worked at Molson Coors in Trenton for 11 years. He was asked what message he would deliver to his brother.
Like his brother 30 years earlier, he never hesitated: “I love him. He gave me life through the grace of God.”
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