Sniper saves uncle's life

13 Mar 2001 | Sgt. Andrew D. Pomykal

As a highly skilled marksman, he is trained to make split-second decisions in life and death situations.  Likewise, he did not hesitate to react when he received the news of a family member in distress..

Second Marine Division's Sgt. Raymond J. Plouhar decided to give the gift of life - -  in the form of one of his kidneys - - to his uncle, Tim Kennedy.

The sergeant from Surveillance, Target and Acquisition Platoon, Weapons Company, 2d Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment, was home on leave for Easter 1998, when his mother told him of his uncle's hospitalization.

Kennedy, a husband and father of two girls, was diagnosed with renal kidney failure, a potentially life-ending disease that required an organ transplant, according to Plouhar.

"As soon as I found out, I offered to be tested [as a donor]," said the Lake Orion, Mich., Marine.

Plouhar's wife, Leigh, was hesitant about his eagerness to donate at first.
"I was angry at him," she said." I was upset 'cause he didn't discuss it with me. He just decided to do it."

Leigh's concern centered on her own immediate family - - her husband and their toddler, Raymond.

"It took her a few months to agree," said Plouhar. "I explained to her that when they're in need, you help family. That's the way I was raised."

The Marine's command also ensured that he understood the repercussions of organ donation.

Plouhar sought the advice of his platoon sergeant at the time, Staff Sgt. Greg S. Tyler, now a scout/sniper instructor at Stone Bay.

"I told him to think of his family first," said Tyler of Santa Ynez, Calif. "I reminded him that this could affect the rest of his life."

"They (his command) were really supportive," Plouhar said.

He was also advised that he might be charged convalescent leave and would incur all medical costs if complications occurred.  Additionally, he was advised that if he died during or after the operation, he would forfeit his serviceman's group life insurance benefits.

The infantryman knew the risks associated with the procedure and conducted his own feasibility assessment. He researched the disease and consulted with a U.S. Naval medical officer to preclude a hereditary condition.

"At age five, my dad lost a kidney, but has since lived a healthy life," he said in defense of his rational. "If I do develop problems later in life, donors in Michigan are considered top candidates for organ replacement."

Later in 1998, the II Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General granted approval

shortly before Plouhar deployed to the Mediterranean region with the 22nd Marine
Expeditionary Unit.

The transplant was performed Jan. 9, which coincidentally is Plouhar's grandmother's birthday.

"I wasn't worried about me. I was scared for Tim," the sergeant said. "I had faith in the surgeons. They do transplants everyday. After the surgery, I wanted to know if he was okay."

In fact, Kennedy's recovery from surgery went well.  He remained in intensive care for only two days. His immune system was constantly monitored while precautions were taken to prevent organ rejection.

Kennedy was discharged after the doctors predicted 90 percent tissue-acceptance. He has almost fully recovered and returned to a more stable, healthy life, according to Plouhar,

"He has had a 180-degree turnaround," he said.

Overall, recovery has been slow, but steady.  Kennedy still undergoes weekly follow-up consults and is required to take 25 different anti-rejection drugs daily, he added.

"His immune system is weak and he lacks energy, but he's slowly getting back to the things he enjoys... camping, fishing and picnicking."
Kennedy, a tool and die machinist, hopes to return to his job in Troy, Mich., in April or May.

Plouhar has recovered well also and plans to visit his uncle prior to attending recruiter school this summer.

"I don't think of myself as a hero," he concluded. "I would have done it for any of my family members."

"He not only helped his uncle, he helped the entire family," said Tyler.
"It's unbelievable. Not many people would have done what he did," claimed Kennedy.