By STEVEN NALLEY
There was a time when Gillan Alexander didnât know Rob Robinson by his name â only by his state.
Robinson, a firefighter and hunter from Starkville, came to Alexanderâs farm near Nicodemus, Kan., in pursuit of the âGrand Slam,â a turkey hunting term for killing all four of Americaâs huntable turkey species. Robinson had a sister living in Kansas, so he continued making return trips to Alexanderâs farm, and Alexander said he nicknamed Robinson âMississippi.â
âIâm pretty bad with names, (but) each time, year after year, as soon as he opened his mouth, I could certainly remember (Robinson was from) Mississippi,â Alexander said.
Today, not only is Alexander on a first-name basis with Robinson, but he also literally carries a piece of Robinson inside him: a kidney Robinson donated to Alexander on Monday.
For 20 years, Alexander had battled focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, which scars the kidney tissues that filter blood. In August 2011, he began dialysis treatment, which he said interfered dramatically with the life he had known as a farmer and rancher.
âDialysis is hard on the body,â Alexander said. âYou have a better chance of survival with a live donor. It just meant all the world to me that Rob did this for me.â
Robinson said he had himself tested as a potential donor not long after learning about Alexanderâs condition. His kidneys turned out to be a good match for Alexander, he said, just as the two of them had become a match as friends.
âWe just hit it off. Itâs been a great friendship, something I could have never really asked for,â Robinson said. âItâs like, heâs a country farmer in ...Kansas, and I love the outdoors. Iâm just a simple guy, and heâs a simple guy. Heâs an early riser because heâs a farmer, and Iâm always getting an update on the weather report and letting him know what the weather is like in Mississippi. Heâs always there and wants to hear from you.â
Robinson and Alexander said their friendship began developing true depth in only the past year, and it began with a happy accident. In fall 2011, Robinson asked Alexander for permission to camp out on his land for hunting purposes. Alexander said he offered to let Robinson stay in his home but, Robinson declined.
âHe said, âNo, I do this all the time.â I had just gotten my labrador; he was not quite a year old,â Alexander said. âRob said (this labrador) went for some food in the tent, (and) he just tore the tent to shreds. Rob wouldnât let me replace his tent or anything. He told me he was coming back in April. I told him, âJust leave the tent at home.ââ
Once again, Robinson said, Alexander offered to let him stay in his home, and this time, Robinson accepted.
âThatâs when we really hit it off as friends, and I got to know his story, what he was going through medically,â Robinson said. âI decided I was going to try to help and become a kidney donor. Ever since then, everything has fallen into place.â
Sharon Robinson, Robâs wife, said she had few reservations about Robâs decision to become Alexanderâs donor. She was a little nervous for Robâs sake, she said, but both she and Rob began to believe there was a reason Rob met Alexander.
âIt was a godsend,â Sharon said. âEverything just fell into place (too much for it) not to be. I was even going to try to get tested (as a potential donor), but I was too petite. You have to be compatible in size.â
Sharon said she had never met Alexander in person before his family invited her and Rob up for Thanksgiving before the transplant surgery, but she had learned enough about him by phone to develop her own friendship with him. Now that she has met Alexanderâs family, she said she hopes to return again, this time with her children.
âI walked into a house full of strangers and felt like they were my family, and (I) fell in love with every one of them,â Sharon said. âWe had so much to be thankful for; it wasnât just another Thanksgiving. (Alexander) was spending six days a week on dialysis. As a farmer, he couldnât function. My husband was giving another man a chance to keep living. You canât beat that.â
Alexander said Thanksgiving with the Robinsons was also a gift to his family.
âIt was a very emotional, very blessed event,â Alexander said. âThere wasnât a dry eye in the house.â
As of Friday, Alexander said he had only been out of the hospital a few hours, but the transition to his new kidney has gone well so far. Now that he and Rob are on a first-name basis, he said, the kidney has given him a new use for an old nickname:
âIâve named my new kidney âMississippi,ââ Alexander said. â(The Robinsons) are both salt of the earth; theyâre just good people. Where I come from, weâre farm people, and we take care of each other. They fit in perfectly.â