UPS Driver Donates Kidney to Co-Worker


UPS driver Noel Keesling has always been an active guy. A former Marine, Keesling regularly competed in triathlons and was always in excellent shape. That’s why it was such a shock for him when he was told he was on the brink of kidney failure.

“When I first found out, I thought I could beat it on my own,” Keesling, a 28-year member of Local 79 in Tampa, Fla. said. “It was only after about six months that I realized I couldn’t.”

But Keesling wasn’t about to give up or even stop working. As he waited for a kidney donor, he began doing dialysis treatments every evening for eight-and-a-half hours straight, seven days a week, for two years. It was a grueling and exhausting daily cycle, but each morning Keesling would get up and go to work to handle his route as a UPS driver.

“It was tough,” Keesling recalled. “Sometimes you just have to cowboy up and go to work. But I had people watching out for me. Co-workers and supervisors would keep an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself too hard and make sure I went home if necessary.”

“I’m a Match!”

When Keesling began his career at UPS in 1989 as a preloader, he became fast friends with his co-worker Joe Clement. The two would regularly meet after work for a drink or to watch a game. They became such good friends that they were in each other’s wedding parties. But as time moved on and children were born and family responsibilities mounted, Keesling and Clement saw less of each other outside work.

But what Clement did see at work was the toll dialysis was having on Keesling, and decided he needed to find a way to help his friend. In an odd coincidence, Clement’s wife had recently donated her kidney to her best friend who was going through similar challenges as Keesling. Clement was inspired by his wife’s selfless act.

“I knew it was long odds, about five million to one, that I would be a perfect match for Noel, but I had to try,” Clement said. “My wife was a true inspiration and I knew exactly what I was going to go through. I just wish I had done it sooner.”

Clement took the initiative and got tested without even telling Keesling, and while he wasn’t a perfect match, the doctors believed that since they had the same blood type, there was a good chance a transplant would be successful. Clement couldn’t wait to tell his friend.

“I remember we were just walking by each other in the UPS facility and Joe just says ‘Hey Noel, I’m a match!’” Keesling said. “I was dumbfounded and shocked and asked him why he got tested in the first place. He just said, ‘Because I’m your friend.’”

Bumps in the Road

Over the years Keesling had many people make an off-hand comment about being willing to donate a kidney to him, but no one had ever actually followed through. This time was different.

“I initially thought that Joe was just trying to make me feel good and didn’t really take him seriously at that time,” Keesling said. “I was willing to keep doing dialysis and wait for a donor. It all became real when someone called and said that your friend Joe came in and he was a match.”

As it turns out, having a successful transplant just because the donor is a match isn’t a given. Clement is a slightly smaller man and consequently, his kidney was smaller than the one it would replace. After the April 1, 2015 transplant, Keesling’s doctors struggled to find the right combination of medication to help compensate for the difference in kidney size. This led to some complications that nearly caused Keesling’s body to reject the kidney.

“I actually had a mini-stroke due to an infection as my doctors tried to figure the right combination of medication,” Keesling said. “They had to take me off the meds temporarily and that caused my body to begin rejecting the kidney.”

Thankfully, everything worked out in the end, and for Keesling, all systems are a go.

“Since the transplant, I wake up in the morning and feel great,” Keesling said. “Throughout the dialysis treatment I would go to bed tired and wake up tired, or on really bad days, dizzy and nauseous. That doesn’t happen anymore and I have Joe to thank.”

Side Effects May Vary

Keesling is back on his bike now, riding on weekends to stay healthy. However, now Clement is right there beside him.

It turns out that the entire experience had a wonderful side effect: It brought two friends that had grown apart back together again.

“This whole process has brought us back together,” Keesling said. “Most people don’t get a second chance at life and that’s what Joe gave me.”