By Andrew Benoit, Voice Staff Writer
With the weather turning nasty, many Blue Devils supporters chose to car pool for the 140 mile round trip. Jeff Olko was preparing to take off for the trip when Bob Davis asked if he and his family could jump in for the ride. It didn't matter that that the two had never met before, just that they were both going to cheer for the Blue Devils.
The two got to talking during the 90-minute car ride and found out they had quite a bit in common. They were both similar in age, both married, and both had an oldest son and two younger daughters. There was, however, one major difference. Olko had been receiving dialysis treatments several times a week for almost a year because of a condition called IgA nephritis. First diagnosed in 1986, Olko's conditioned had worsened to the point that he was in serious need of a kidney transplant.
Davis immediately showed concern and began asking what was needed for a kidney transplant and how someone went about finding a donor match. Olko explained that first a blood test was needed followed by several other diagnostic tests to determine a potential match. Despite having only met earlier that day, when Davis found out the two had the same blood type he said something that truly surprised Olko.
"He said 'how would you like an early Christmas present,'" Olko said.
That was the moment the two men formed a bond that will likely be shared for the rest of their lives.
United by wrestling and faith "I was dumbfounded," Olko said. "I thanked God and, of course, I thanked Robert."
Olko's place on the Michigan organ donor registry likely would have had him waiting for several years for a donor or cadaver match. A simple twist of fate, and a community bound by a powerhouse wrestling program, was all it took for Olko's future to get a whole lot brighter.
"It took Bob, who was a complete stranger, but we're united by the Richmond wrestling program," Olko said. "It's surreal to me and I can't believe it's happening."
For his part, Davis said after realizing they were a match, he never really contemplated not giving up his kidney. Davis said he and his family re-committed themselves to their church, and he said that has helped him recognize 'God moments.'
"I think I had a God moment that I was put there for a reason for this man," Davis said. "It was something I thought God was telling me to do."
Davis has a few more tests to undergo before the doctors can schedule a surgery date, but at this point the transplant is tentatively scheduled for sometime near the end of July or the beginning of August. With the reality of the situation finally setting in, Davis is not having any regrets.
"I was very excited to do it. I'm still excited that I have the chance to give a man his quality of life back. A father needs to be there for his kids and a husband needs to be there for his wife," he said.
Davis said the men have formed a good friendship and call each other on a weekly basis now to talk about their lives and families. Despite the severity of any organ transplant surgery, both are optimistic about the outcome and are already looking forward to the future.
Olko, who previously operated a business, said he intends to go back to school to become a dialysis technician. He said his current treatment has inspired him to want to help others going through a similar ordeal.
"It's easy for a technician to tell a patient they'll get better in a few months but it's not very comforting. I can tell people I know what you're dealing with," Olko said.
Olko also said he has learned that in some transplant instances, the recipient takes on some characteristics of the donor.
"I hope I can take on some of his characteristics because he's such a good person," Olko said.
With the heart of summer descending, the wrestling season is still quite a few months away. That's OK with Olko, he said, because it will give him enough time to recuperate and get back to 100 percent by the start of the season. Although Davis' son, Mike, recently graduated, Olko's son Nick will be entering his sophomore year and has three years of wrestling left in front of him.
Ironically, within the Richmond wrestling program there isn't anything signifying that fateful day in December except a W in the win column for the Blue Devils; but it was the car ride to that match that will forever be remembered by two proud Blue Devil parents and their families.