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Milligan alum donates kidney to change life

Gary B. Gray
Johnson City Press

Gary Gray/Johnson City Press Richard Markland said he knew it would be his right kidney that he would donate to a young man he met through motorcycle racing.

Gary Gray/Johnson City Press
Richard Markland said he knew it would be his right kidney that he would donate to a young man he met through motorcycle racing.

When Richard Markland learned his friend with chronic renal failure finally needed a kidney transplant, he didn’t think twice about giving up one of his own to see a young man get a new lease on life.

Markland, 32, is a Johnson City native who met Jon Michael Rainey, now 18, through motorcycle racing. Markland, who is a supervisor at Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, also writes articles for Offroad Viking, a web-based outlet for Off Road Racing Magazine.

“I met him through motorcycle racing and have been friends with him and his family,” Markland said last week at Johnson City’s iTrain Fitness, where he continues to gain strength following his operation. “He and his mom approached me about doing an article on him, and that’s how I learned he needed a kidney. We ended up doing a video on him. It gave him an opportunity to talk about not being able to ride anymore. He was emotional. His attitude was up and down. That’s really all he’s done all his life.”

Rainey’s parents approached Markland about doing the interview on a Thursday. Three days later, Markland was filling out the paperwork to see if he was the right blood type to become a match and donate one of his kidneys.

“I knew from the very start this was what I was meant to do,” he said. “I even knew which kidney I’d be donating — my right one.”

In September, he gave blood for the first time. In mid-October, he went to the Medical University of Charleston in South Carolina for more testing. On the way there, he told Rainey he’d be giving him his right kidney.

“A lot of people told me I shouldn’t do it,” he said. “I’ve got a little girl that’s 5. Some of my friends felt I might be putting myself in jeopardy, but I found out after about two weeks that I was a match. The surgeon basically pitched the idea before a panel, which agreed.”

He said his mom was “totally” against it.

“I guess it was just me being her baby,” he said.

His father, however, encouraged him to go forward. And after doing some serious research on the subject, he decided to do just that.

Markland rode with Rainey’s family to the hospital Nov. 28, and the surgery ensued.

“Jon Michael is doing well,” he said. “Luckily, they said the kidney started working normally right off the bat,” he said while snapping his fingers. “He’s joined the volunteer fire department in his community and wants to be a firefighter. He graduated high school this weekend.”

Markland grew up on Cherokee Road and is a Science Hill High School grad. He also earned bachelor’s degrees at ‍Milligan College in business and chemistry.

He’s now back at the gym. He says he’s weaker than before the operation, and he’s had to cut back on his protein intake to keep his one good kidney functioning properly. Still, he started back at the gym in February and says he does not have to limit what he does physically because of the loss of a kidney.

“When he first came over here and was paying me to train him, I couldn’t keep up with him,” said Michael Hardin, iTrain owner and personal trainer. “He was pushing me as much as I push him.”

Meanwhile, Markland had no particular advice for anyone considering donating a kidney. But he was able to convey what the experience meant to him.

“With me, it was just basically following my heart,” he said. “It felt good. He can’t ride anymore. But he’s a typical 18-year-old — ready for his independence. I did it to give a young man his life again.”

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MILLIGAN COLLEGE is a Christian liberal arts college in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The college offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan College, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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