July 8/15, 2019: Volume 35, Issue 2
By Steven Feldman
Back in the Oct. 15/22, 2018 issue of FCNews, I wrote an editorial about my friend Steve Joss, owner of The Vertical Connection Carpet One in Columbia, Md. For those who suffer from memory loss or are new to this publication, Steve was among the 100,000-plus people in this country awaiting a kidney transplant. My intention was to offer four takeaways from that column:
1. All the money in the world may get you lavish cars and luxurious estates, but it still doesn’t buy health. So stop killing yourself trying to make every last nickel.
2. You can complain about what you don’t have—in Steve’s case, a working kidney—or you can be thankful for all the good things in your life. Steve never complained about driving to dialysis three times a week and getting hooked up to a machine for four hours; maybe he griped about the traffic to get there.
3. In times of adversity, you have two choices: feel sorry for yourself or cling to hope and stay positive. You never know what the future holds.
4. If you ever have a loved one who finds himself or herself in this unfortunate situation, know that the University of Maryland kidney trans- plant center has made it easier than ever to donate. You are home in one to two days, back to work in a couple of weeks. And if you donate a kidney and ever need one, you move to the top of the list. It’s almost like an insurance policy.
Anyway, about nine days after the Oct. 15/22 issue hit the streets, at 4:39 p.m. on Halloween, as ghosts, vampires and superheroes were beginning to populate the streets, a real superhero emerged. No costume. No weapons. No superpowers. He did not walk into my office looking to save the day. Rather, his words showed up in a late-day email looking to save a life:
I was reading your article about Steve Joss on Monday, and I was extremely touched by it. After doing my own research about the donation process and everything it entails, I would love to see if I’d be able to help Mr. Joss. I understand that there’s an extensive vetting process to see if I’d even be a match, but if it gives him a fighting chance to go back to a normal life, it’s something I’m willing to commit to. I’m 25, in good health and have no past health issues to speak of, so I’m hoping my odds of being a good match for him are decent. I understand that time isn’t much of a luxury he can afford right now, so you or any of his family are welcome to contact me on my personal cell anytime. Thank you for putting Mr. Joss’s story out there and I hope to hear from y’all soon.
The email was signed by someone named Jes Smothers. Jes works on the sales side at WC Carpenter in Virginia Beach, Va., a successful Starnet member. He has hardly been in this industry for a year.
As a man who prides himself on keeping his emotions in check, it was at that moment where I completely lost it. I started shaking uncontrollably. I was excited to help connect Jes and Steve. (For the past 25 years all I’ve been doing with my life is trying to make floor covering retailers more profitable and professional.) Noble, maybe, but difference making? Eh. The notion that one 600-word column could potentially help save a man’s life was way beyond the realm of my existence. I couldn’t even remember Steve’s phone number to give him the potential good news. My brain shut down, and I could not find it anywhere. Didn’t even know where to look. I dialed about 20 wrong numbers. No joke.
That evening I connected the pair, but you know, a lot can go awry from the time someone says, “I want to donate a kidney,” to going under the ether. We’re talking about six months here. There are a litany of medical tests that must be satisfied, not to mention relatives, significant others, friends and co-workers who will try to convince you that you’re insane. Jes encountered little of that, and when he did he was undeterred. Nor did he ever second-guess himself. Not once.
Then you have the hospital asking about 500 times, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” Oh. And then there’s one more hurdle to clear:
the donor and kidney recipient must be a match. Everything else can fall into place, but if you’re not a match, well, all you have is good intentions without execution.
As it turns out, Jes and Steve were not a match. But the story doesn’t end here. (Spoiler alert: It gets better.) Jes was still able to donate a kidney, and because of that, not only was Steve able to receive one from the kidney bank but a 12-year-old boy’s life was saved and is now walking around with Jes’ kidney. So not one, but two lives were saved by this heroic human being.
As I write this on July 2, all three are doing well today. Not every story has a happy ending, but this one does. Recently I met Jes in New York City for the first time since the procedure. He’s an incredible young man who you will be learning a lot about in the pages of FCNews going forward.
I must say watching all this unfold over the past seven months has changed my outlook on life, and I want to offer up a few nuggets to consider:
1. It only takes one. Probably 40,000 eyes, give or take, view this column from week to week, but only one person sent an email in response to the column on Steve Joss. Jes was the one.
2. Never give up hope. Greek mythology tells us when Pandora opened her jar, all evil escaped, but Pandora (under Zeus’ will) held hope inside by closing the lid. Hope will always live.
3. Just when you thought everyone on this planet is only looking out for themselves with no regard for their fellow human beings—especially strangers—along comes Jes Smothers.
Last but not least, our role as journalists—and I not only speak for my fellow editors/publishers in the flooring industry but any journalist who has a forum—affords us the ability to make a difference in this world. It’s both a responsibility and a privilege that we all must embrace.