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504 || That’s Our Walters

It took three seconds for Richard Walters to decide to give Tony Davis his kidney. The two weren’t friends; they just worked together at the meat counter in an Indiana grocery store. Until Tony made a joke about needing a kidney, Richard didn’t even know the man he worked alongside was going through dialysis.

If that chance interaction doesn’t seem plausible, then this one is going to blow your mind.

Richard Walters almost died more than 30 years ago when he was stationed in Germany. And if Richard had died back then, Tony would have never received the kidney that saved his life, and the world would never hear this remarkable story of how humans — even humans who aren’t close friends, blood relatives, or even the same race — can team up to help each other.

Wally — the Driver

In 1986, Richard was known as Wally, the good-natured tank driver for Delta Company, 2/37th Armor Battalion, an Army unit based in West Germany. Captain Thomas Glennon was his company commander at the time, and he remembers a twenty-something soldier from the heart of the country.

“He was a great kid,” Tom said. “As a company commander, you have to have a crew that can work independently without having you around constantly. … He was just a great, all-around kid from Indiana.”

Richard has been a Christian all of his life, but he definitely had some wilder days back in his youth, he told the Indy Star.

One Friday night, Richard and some of his soldier buddies went partying downtown, and, well, there was alcohol involved — a lot of alcohol. They got in a fight — as inebriated young men tend to do — and Richard tossed out a particularly offensive racial slur. That word got him punched in the back, and he fell head-first into a curbstone, Tom said.

The other soldiers — also under the influence of alcohol — thought the injury wasn’t so bad, so they took him home and put him to bed. The next morning, after they all sobered up a bit, they took one look at his head and realized things were a lot worse than they seemed the night before.

They brought Richard up to the barracks where Tom happened to be working on that Saturday morning. The soldier on duty guarding the barracks called up to Tom and told him Richard had been injured. He said they were bringing him to the unit to have him checked out. Tom met them in the parking lot.

One of the men spoke quickly: “Hey sir, Walters is in the back of my Jeep, and I think he’s going to die.”

Tom went to the back of the Jeep and saw one soldier holding Richard. Tom describes the swelling on Richard’s head like someone had cut a cantaloupe in half and attached it to the front of Richard’s face. He was unconscious and drooling, with his eyes rolled back in his head. Tom checked for a pulse and breathing, and thankful to realize his soldier was still alive, he told his men take Richard straight to the Army hospital.

Das Krankenhaus 

Tom went with his soldiers to the hospital where the weekend doctor on duty diagnosed Richard with a mild concussion. Tom was appalled that such a clearly serious injury was being dismissed, so he went looking for another doctor. That’s when he ran in to their battalion physician’s assistant — the two men literally collided.

“Hey, my driver’s in the emergency room, and he’s about ready to die,” Tom told him.

The physician’s assistant wasn’t even on call that day. He was just visiting another soldier when Tom ran into him. Still, that chance encounter probably saved Richard’s life. He challenged that weekend doctor — who was quite insulted, by the way — and told her she was wrong in her diagnosis. The battalion physician’s assistant called a neurosurgeon assigned to the hospital to ask for advice. The neurosurgeon advised them they wouldn’t be able to assemble a surgical team to do the necessary surgery in time, but they could find a German team to go in and relieve the pressure on Richard’s brain.

Richard was transported to a krankenhaus, a German hospital, where he was operated on immediately. Tom estimates Richard was only a couple of hours away from death when surgeons operated and ultimately saved him.

Richard was in a coma for two weeks and remained at the U.S. hospital in Landstuhl until he emerged from the coma and was stable enough to be transported back to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. And when he woke up from his coma, Richard decided to be a different person.

“I started realizing I have to give back because I’d been spared,” Richard said. “I wanted to be one of those people who have a heart for people in need and who help.”

Giving Back

There have certainly been more instances of Richard’s kindness over the years, but it takes a lot to compete with giving someone a body part.

Still, those who know Richard weren’t surprised that he would help someone in need.

Tom lost touch with Richard after he went back to the States. For years Tom has been trying to track down the people he knew over in Germany, yet he hadn’t been able to find Richard. But when Tom saw a story online about Richard giving Tony a kidney, he knew it was the same man he served with three decades ago.

“I looked at the photo, and I’m like, ‘That’s Wally,’ ” Tom said. “That’s our Walters.”

If hindsight is 20/20, then this story looks much cleaner from this side. If Richard had never been struck, he might have never changed. If Tom hadn’t literally run into the familiar physician’s assistant, Richard would have gone misdiagnosed. If the physician’s assistant hadn’t noticed the first doctor’s misdiagnosis, Richard might have died. If Richard had never woken up, he wouldn’t have devoted his life to helping others. If he had died in Germany, he would have never met Tony at the meat counter in Indiana. And Tony might not have the lifesaving transplant he needed.

“Back then I would say it was luck, but seeing how everything played out, I’d say there was a little divine providence there,” Tom said.

We’d say there was a LOT of divine providence in this story.

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