As the Eagles and Chiefs prepare to meet this Sunday in the Super Bowl, two football fans have already beaten the odds.
John Gladwell and Billy Welsh first crossed paths while serving together in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Welsh is a self-proclaimed lifelong Eagles fan, while Gladwell supports the Chiefs.
The couple occasionally kept in touch via social media, with Welsh eventually learning that he would need a life-saving kidney transplant. Welsh shared his need for a kidney on Facebook, and Gladwell chimed in a short time later.
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Gladwell underwent tests and found that she was a match. The two would later undergo an hour-long surgery at a Philadelphia hospital.
Despite their connection today, the two men didn’t always get along.
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«We didn’t like each other while we were inside,» Gladwell told KMBC-TV in Kansas City. «I was 17 years old, I was young, I was too enthusiastic. I just wanted to go home. I wanted to go out,» he added.
«He was a jerk,» Welsh said of Gladwell.
But Welsh was surprised and very grateful that Gladwell volunteered to be his kidney donor.
«I was shocked, when he said he was a match and he’d be in town next week, I cried,» Welsh said. «Never in a million years would I have thought that guy would have given me a kidney.»
Gladwell shared that she wanted Welsh to still be able to spend time with her family in the future.
«I don’t think I could have lived with myself if I could have done something but I didn’t. I wanted him to have dad go to Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, 76ers games, all that. I wanted him to be able to experience all of that with her dad,» Gladwell said.
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After the kidney donation, a diagnosis of COVID-19 would land Gladwell in the ICU. After being admitted, Gladwell would learn that he suffered from kidney failure.
Gladwell was able to recover after a month. Welsh was glad to know that his friend was able to get over the ordeal.
«I’m so grateful that he’s recovered, that both kidneys are still working,» Welsh said.
After news of the selfless act spread, the two men learned that they would be traveling to Arizona to watch their respective teams compete in the biggest game in football.
Eagle president Don Smolenski contacted the Chiefs and both organizations decided to side with him to help get the fans to the Super Bowl. «The opportunity to bring these two guys together, their two teams playing on the biggest stage in sports, is very, very humbling and gratifying,» Smolenski told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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Even though they’ll have different rooting interests on Sunday, the duo’s bond beyond the game appears to be unbreakable. «It’s family,» Gladwell said. «He’s my hero,» Welsh said.