ANDERSON, S.C. (WSPA) – The Anderson nonprofit organization Vets Helping Vets Anderson is living up to its name.
One of its members just saved another’s life.
The group is a lifeline for many local veterans who meet weekly to connect and support each other. It’s how veteran Steve Hartington met Billy Konrad.
Months ago, Konrad’s wife, Bonnie, let the group know that he was in desperate need of a kidney.
Even though he didn’t know Konrad well, Hartington says he felt called by God to help after noticing Konrad’s humility and the love between him and his wife. Hartington quietly underwent testing to see if he was a match, then decided to donate his kidney to a brother in need.
The transplant surgeries were successful in early October.
Thursday was the first day they were able to attend a Vets Helping Vets meeting, where they were welcomed with cheers and hugs from nearly 100 veterans in the group.
“(Billy) was so humble and he never asked… why not help somebody else out who can be that humble? I want some of that, you know?” he said.
Konrad says this is a beautiful example of the loyalty veterans have to one another, even if they are strangers to each other on the battlefield of life.
“When veterans say ‘I got your back,’ they mean it,” he said.
Hartington and Konrad both served in the Vietnam War.
For Hartington, the toll was emotional and psychological and for Konrad, it was physical.
“Agent orange exposure, I believe that’s the culprit,” he said, regarding his need for kidney and liver transplants. “Turned into Hepatitis C and became nonalcoholic cirrhosis.”
The kidney surgery date just so happened to fall on October 3rd, which was the day Hartington’s son was born 34 years ago.
“So I give life on the same day to two different people and it’s like ‘Aah. That’s a God thing to me,” he said.
Once Konrad received the kidney, he says it became immediately clear that he’d be bonded to Hartington and Hartington’s service dog Barrett for life.
“Barrett knew. He came into that hospital room. The first thing he did was come around the bed and put his head right here, which is where Steve’s kidney is,” Konrad said as he pointed to his abdomen.
It’s bond that both describe with certainty:
“We’re brothers from another mother,” Konrad said, smiling. “It’s fantastic.”
Before the kidney transplant, Hartington received a liver transplant and was overwhelmed by the support he received from members of the group throughout the process.
He recalled how they took turns mowing his lawn and even helped financially to alleviate stress from medical bills as he underwent treatment and surgery.
Vets Helping Vets Anderson meets every Wednesday at 10am at the Anderson Elks Lodge. All honorably discharged and active duty veterans are welcome.