EDMOND — Usually cops are honored for heroism in the line of duty. An Edmond officer was honored Friday for off-duty heroism.
On Aug. 12, Edmond Police Officer John Zeigler checked into Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa to donate one of his kidneys to lifelong friend Rob Pittman, of Broken Arrow.
About 12 or 13 years ago, Rob called John and told him that his kidneys were failing. John knew Rob was having health problems, but the situation was getting worse. John and several other members of their close-knit circle of friends offered to be a donor.
“He said, ‘Let’s go when the time’s right,’” Zeigler said during a ceremony Friday afternoon at the Edmond Police Department. “That time came this last March.”
The typing process began and Zeigler was found to be a suitable donor. There were no obstacles and nothing came up that would have made him think twice about the decision, Zeigler said. His wife Elizabeth was with him all the way, he said.
“I asked God to open all the doors and he certainly did,” Zeigler said.
Pittman said Zeigler’s decision to donate had been made much earlier.
“I didn’t know that he had told his wife before they even got married that he was going to give me his kidney someday,” Rob said, his voice expressing the emotion he was feeling inside. “I didn’t find out that until I got into the hospital.”
Following surgery, when Rob awoke in the recovery room, activity stopped and hospital staff wheeled John over to him because they don’t see this type of thing everyday, he recalled.
“We shook hands and he asked me how I was,” recalled Pittman, who praised hospital staff for their fine care. He also recognized his wife. “My wife was at the hospital for 90 hours straight.”
Zeigler said through his Christian faith he believes people are put in others’ lives for a reason.
“It doesn’t have to be anything big,” he said. “The contact that we have means something. It is for a purpose. The purpose was revealed in this situation.”
Zeigler and Pittman were part of a close-knit circle of friends. They went to middle school together and they both graduated from Edmond Memorial High School.
“We’ve kept in contact all the way through the years,” Pittman said.
Glynda Chu, spokeswoman for the Edmond Police Department, said normally police share news about violence and death. For most Edmond residents, Aug. 12 was a routine day.
“But for all these people here today it was a day they will never forget,” Chu said. “It changed their lives forever. Today is a day of celebration because we can see that everything is going so well.”
Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks said the Life Saving Award is one of the highest awards bestowed by the Police Department because it is one of the noblest acts officers perform.
Ricks said nearly all past presentations have been made for heroism in the line of duty. In this case, Zeigler was off-duty and voluntarily acted in order to aid another whose life was in jeopardy, he said. Ricks quoted John 15:13, which is etched on a law enforcement memorial plaque, “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.”
“In this case, our Officer Zeigler was willing, selflessly to donate his own kidney so that the life of another could be spared,” Ricks said. “We believe that there’s no higher honor that one can do for another than to give the other person life. And that is what occurred here.”
Bill Zeigler, the officer’s father, said he has always been proud of his son, especially now.
“When I first heard about it I had mixed emotions,” he said. “After a couple of days I thought, I’d like to think that if I had the same choice I’d do the same thing. John has always wanted to be helpful to other people. That’s one of his trademarks.”
Ricks said both men are doing exceedingly well, and the officer has come back quicker than expected. He was on duty Friday, although he was on somewhat light duty.
Zeigler’s supervisor, Edmond Police Capt. Tim Dorsey, said the officer’s actions reflect his desire to help a friend in need.
“This is obviously a big sacrifice on John’s part and sets the example of ‘putting others before self,’” Dorsey said.
This is the second time Zeigler has received the Life Saving Award; the first time followed an infant choking call. In 2001, he received the Medal of Honor after being involved in a deadly force, active shooter situation in which countless lives were saved. He was named the state’s Police Officer of the Year that year.
Given a new lease on life, Pittman said he wants to go swimming, something he couldn’t do when he was on dialysis.
“Long term, I want to make my wife proud of me,” Pittman said. “I want to be a voice, an advocate for organ donation. I think that’s very important.”
Currently, more than 105,000 people are awaiting life-saving organ transplants in the United States, according to LifeShare transplant services of Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, about 760 people are awaiting organ transplants. About 50 Oklahomans die each year waiting for a transplant.
Anyone can be a potential organ, eye and tissue donor, from newborn to senior citizen. Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis at the time of death and may be affected by medical/social history, cause of death, etc.
Registration can occur online, at tag agencies when you get your driver’s license or state ID card and at some health fairs. For more information about being an organ donor, visit www.lifeshareoklahoma.org.