— -- The Super Bowl-winning brothers who ended their NFL careers in order to have a kidney transplant say they are “overwhelmed” by all the attention their story has received but happy to be part of an uplifting story for the NFL.
“We’re excited about it but we’re not the first ones to do a kidney transplant,” Ma’ake Kemoeatu told ABC News today. “I’m happy that my brother is healthy. He’s got a kidney.”
Kemoeatu, a former Baltimore Ravens nose tackle, and younger brother Chris Kemoeatu, a former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman, made headlines Wednesday when it was revealed that the pair underwent a successful kidney transplant last month that resulted in Ma’ake giving one of his kidneys to Chris.
Chris, 31, had stopped playing for the Steelers three years ago when a kidney disease that developed from a childhood illness got progressively worse.
“The recovery time from off-season to the next season just got longer and longer,” Chris told ABC News by phone from Baltimore, where he and Ma’ake, 35, have been recovering since their Aug. 27 surgeries at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
“I put it aside for about a year-and-a-half and it just kept getting worse,” he said.
With Chris’ condition worsening to a near life-threatening state, Ma’ake, the eldest of their family's seven siblings, volunteered to donate his own kidney when tests showed he was a 99 percent match with his younger brother.
“It’s my duty to take care of my younger brother,” Ma’ake said. “If he needs blood, I’ll give blood and if he needs a kidney, I’ll give a kidney.”
The decision forced Ma’ake to cut his own NFL career short in 2012 to prepare for what was to come.
“I had to lose about 45 to 55 pounds,” said Ma’ake, whose weight had exceeded 400 pounds. “Being that I’m only going to have one kidney left, I have to be strict with my diet.
“Before this, we were just living it up, playing football, eating what we wanted and it just came to a halt,” he said.
The Aug. 27 surgery required a team of four transplant surgeons, nurses, nephrologists, anesthesiologists, transplant coordinators and more, according to University of Maryland Medical Center officials.
“I have to say the kidney we got from Ma'ake was probably the largest normal kidney I have ever seen in my life,” one of the surgeons, Dr. Stephen Bartlett, said at a news conference Wednesday.
Ma’ake and Chris each spent a few days in the hospital after the surgery and have been staying in Baltimore until they get the clearance from doctors – typically six weeks post-surgery – to continue on with their lives.
Both brothers have decided to leave their NFL careers, including a combined three Super Bowl wins, behind them and move home to their native Hawaii, where they plan to work with children, work on their foundation and work at the family’s gym.
“We’ve been gone from home for a long time,” Chris said. “The last two years gave us a lot of time to think and reevaluate where we’re at with life and making the transition from football to the normal life.”
Though they are returning home, the Kemoeatu brothers are not leaving the spotlight behind entirely.
Camera crews have been following the brothers throughout the kidney transplant process for a planned documentary. Distribution for the documentary, tentatively titled “A Brother’s Journey,” is to be determined as the cameras continue to film, but the brothers plan to launch a new website Monday.
“It’s truly been a blessing for my brother and me,” Chris said of their journey together. “He made a huge sacrifice for me and blessed me with a new kidney.”
Added Ma’ake: “We want to thank everyone who has been supporting us, our family and friends and teammates.”