First Sgt. Corey Myers served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
He came home with a Purple Heart and shrapnel lodged in his back and talks about the good man he lost to a sniper’s bullet.
Here on the home front, the Army Ranger, who is stationed at Fort Benning, performed a more personal kind of service.
His young son’s best friend, Nicholas Story, was born with just one kidney, and it started giving out on him a few years ago.
Myers volunteered to be match-tested, and when he turned out to be a suitable donor, he didn’t hesitate to give part of himself to his 10-year-old neighbor. Doctors in Atlanta performed the surgery three months ago.
Now, instead of facing dialysis, Nicholas can think about playing sports this summer and starting fifth grade this fall. Because of a soldier’s sacrifice, every day for him is Independence Day.
Friends became family
Myers, who turns 34 Wednesday, grew up in the military town of Oceanside, Calif., five miles from Camp Pendleton. He started collecting G.I. Joes as a kid and knew from age 16 he wanted to join the Army.
His military career started five days after he graduated from high school. Standing 5 feet 8 inches, he might have weighed 120 pounds with rocks in his pockets.
In 2005, during his second tour in Iraq, a sniper took out his platoon leader. An explosive strapped to the underside of a bridge detonated as Myers’ convoy approached. The blast left him with a severe concussion and shards of metal at the base of his neck. And he smashed his face as he fell.
“I sat out for about 72 hours,” he said. “Then I got back in the fight.”
When that tour was up, he and wife, Julie, were transferred to Fort Benning in Columbus, on the Georgia-Alabama line. They and their sons, Jacob, 10, and Nicholas, 7, became fast friends with 1st Sgt. Vernon Story, his wife, Rebecca, and their kids, Bryanna, 18; Scott, 15; and Nicholas, 10.
“They’re kind of like family,” Julie Myers said of the Storys.
When Nicholas Story was 7, a sports physical indicated high blood pressure, odd for a child so young. Tests confirmed that he had been born with just one kidney —- something no one knew —- and its function was steadily decreasing.
“I was sleepy when I came home from school,” Nicholas said. “I had stomach aches. I didn’t eat much.”
Rebecca Story was adamant that her son not endure dialysis. She lost her father last summer to complications from diabetes, including kidney failure. He was hooked up to machines until the end, and she couldn’t bear the same fate for her son.
“We needed to go ahead and look into surgery,” she said.
Julie and Rebecca, who are as inseparable as their sons, often walk together in their military base neighborhood in the evening. One night, Julie told Rebecca that she and Corey had decided to be match-tested to see whether either might be a donor candidate. Julie’s blood type immediately disqualified her, but her husband is O-positive, universally compatible.
On Veterans Day 2008, the families traveled to Atlanta for initial testing to determine the donor. Rebecca Story and Corey Myers both had compatible blood types, but doctors recommended that Rebecca not donate, figuring a 10-year-old boy would need his mother after transplant surgery. It would be better, they said, if she were not also recovering.
This February, the families returned to Atlanta, where doctors at Emory Healthcare conducted a battery of tests on Corey Myers: blood testing, MRI and CT scans, X-rays and ultrasound testing, to check for any abnormalities with his kidneys.
“You name it, I was hooked up to it,” he said. Throughout the 13-hour ordeal, Rebecca and Nicholas waited with Julie, who was fighting a war of nerves on two fronts.
“My good friend was going through this with her son,” she said. “My perfectly healthy husband was going to have an organ removed. I was worried for both of them.”
On April 28, Myers’ kidney was removed at Emory and transplanted into Nicholas Story across the street at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. The organ was put in a cooler and traveled quickly by underground tunnel, explained transplant surgeon Nicole Turgeon, who removed Myers’ kidney.
She was honored to meet the soldier and his family.
“I sort of had an immediate bond with him,” Turgeon said. “Afterward, I met his wife and the rest of his family. There were tears of joy that he had done well and tears of relief.”
He snapped back quickly, which didn’t surprise her.
“That’s a tribute to his overall physical status,” Turgeon said. “He seemed to do incredibly well. I had to hold him back a little bit. I wanted to make sure he didn’t do any heavy lifting for about six weeks. He has to live life in moderation. I think that’s probably a little bit of a challenge for a Ranger, but he can certainly resume his life in the military.”
At a follow-up visit to check his progress, Myers presented the doctor with a Commander’s Award medallion, a commendation that can be given to a civilian in appreciation.
“I couldn’t have been more touched,” Turgeon said. “He’s completely selfless. He not only puts himself in harm’s way for his country, he also put himself in harm’s way for another human being. He’s such a hero.”
‘A different kid’
Before surgery, Nicholas ran a fever and ached all the time. He could hardly enjoy the trip to Disney World made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“He would be up every night throwing up,” Rebecca Story said. “He eyes were always puffy and red.”
Soon after surgery, she said, “It’s like he was a different kid. He was eating me out of house and home.”
The two families are preparing for another transfer, this time to Fort Campbell, Ky. Myers and Story will be in the same unit, and their families will live next door to each other.
Rebecca’s eyes fill as she talks about the gift her son received.
“I would have done the same thing for her,” she said, as Julie handed her a tissue.
Nicholas and Jacob are a bit less emotional. They took a break from computer games the other day to talk about the procedure with the nonchalance of 10-year-olds as their mothers dabbed at tears.
“I sleep when I’m supposed to now,” Nicholas said.
“Now I can go over to his house a lot,” Jacob said.
But when their parents left the room, the guys got serious for a moment. The proud sons of Army men, they’ve learned a lesson about giving and service to others.
“It makes me feel good that he helped my best friend,” Jacob said of his dad. “He saved a life.”