ATF agent donates kidney to federal agent suffering from disease

HOUSTON – A friendship forged in the perils of law enforcement led to an incredible act of generosity from one federal agent to another. Doug Kunze and Jeff Brown have known each other since 1997; both were special agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Both men have been from El Salvador to Iraq on missions to share their expertise with other police officers and soldiers.

“We were teaching them how to investigate post-blast incidents,” Kunze said.

Four years ago, Kunze was told during an ATF physical that his chronic kidney disease was advancing to the point he would eventually need a donor or be on dialysis.

“I just sat it my truck for a minute thinking about it,” Kunze said. “I just said, 'You know what? I'm not giving up.'”

Kunze’s kidney disease advanced to a point that, in June 2016, he was put on a kidney-transplant list. Without a donor, Kunze was facing the certainty of dialysis.

“It's a very rough process. I mean I watched my dad go through back in the 70s,” Kunze said.

No family member proved to be a viable match, but Kunze never gave up hope. Then one day, Brown called him.

“He called me up and wanted the number for the transplant center and I asked him what for and he said, 'because I'm going to donate,'” Kunze said. “It was huge. I mean, I had a good cry over it.”

Brown lives in Florida and said it was originally his wife’s idea to get tested. Brown said that same night it was a passage from the Book of John in the Bible that made his decision easy.

“Jesus said, ‘I command you as this, love each other as I have loved you,’” Brown said. “It was an honor for me to be able to do it, I think it was an opportunity given to me to live out the faith that I say that I have.”

Brown was a match, so he flew to Houston with his family and prepped for surgery. Fellow ATF agents helped raise the money through a GoFundMe page to cover Brown’s travel expenses and whatever else wasn’t covered by insurance.

“We're a small agency and we're family; we're going to take care of each other,” said Fred Milanowksi, special agent-in-charge of ATF’s Houston office.

The day of surgery came in late March. Tensions were eased when the pair and their families got to share a few moments in the same room before the operation began.

“That to me was an awesome moment to have that beforehand,” Kunze said.

Ten hours later, Kunze had a new kidney.

“I woke up realizing I got a new life,” Kunze said.

Brown said he wanted no thanks for his donation; his only worry was that his friend would feel indebted to him.

“I know people give me thanks and everything, but my wife and I think we both got more out of it than we gave,” Brown said.

Still, Kunze said he will always honor the act of brotherhood that helped save his life.

“I will do anything for him and his family for every day I have left on Earth,” Kunze said.

Aside from the normal issues that come with transplant surgery, Kunze said his feels well and is walking about two miles a day. Brown said he's almost back to “100 percent.”

Both men said they hope sharing this story will inspire others to consider organ donation. They also credited Nora’s Home with helping Brown’s family stay with him during the surgery and recovery.

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