Alan Linden drove a long way Thursday to see an old friend.
But it wasn’t your average reunion.
It was a journey from Joplin to Lake St. Louis filled with hope of saving a life.
“I’m not nervous. I’ve been excited. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. I feel so honored and blessed to give it to a friend,” he said.
And the person who’s going to be benefit?
It’s Ethan Place, the head football coach at Holt High School in Wentzville.
The two have known each other since 2011 when they began coaching football together at Joplin High School.
“People don’t realize how much time high school football staff spend together,” Place said.
Linden added, “We could argue back and forth and it not be a big deal whatsoever.”
In fact, they started working together right after the city was leveled by a catastrophic tornado.
“We taught down the hall from each other in an old Venture store they remodeled,” Place said.
But Place isn’t just known for his work on the sidelines. He’s been on the front lines too.
“I left shortly after 9/11. That really solidified why I wanted to push myself in this direction,” he said.
Place is a Marine Corp sniper who served two tours of duty in Iraq and Fallujah. He earned a Silver Star for killing 32 enemy fighters in 13 days.
And more recently, he got a personal phone call from United States Defense Secretary General James Mattis.
“Yeah, that was quite the voicemail,” Place remembered.
But Place’s time at war wasn’t the reason why General Mattis called, or what nearly cost him his life at 31.
Since 2015, he’s been battling kidney failure. Doctors, he said, believe it could be partly genetic and related to things he was exposed to overseas.
At one point, Place’s blood pressure reached 276/174.
“They told me I was at 10% (function) and that my kidneys were going to fail. I had to start dialysis and find a donor,” Place said.
The condition completely uprooted his life and forced him to do dialysis at home every day for eight hours a day to keep his blood clean.
He explained, “Some days you’re just trying to survive. Some days you’re alright. It takes everything you have out of you. I joke that it takes your soul. You’re just a shell of yourself.”
And it’s taken a toll on his personal life.
“The biggest thing I feel is for my wife. We want to start having kids,” he said.
But soon, the days of living off a machine will be over.
“Once I decided to get tested, I decided it was absolutely something I wanted to do. Probably more than he would want me to be,” Linden said.
At 35, Linden not only got tested, but he was one of three people who were a match to give Place a new kidney.
It’s a life-altering decision he said came rather easily.
“My goodness, if there’s a person who deserves this, it’s a guy who fought for our country. What I’m doing is so minor compared to what he’s done,” Linden said.
Place said, “It’s very humbling to have people who want to help and reach out.”
They’re both scheduled for surgery on Friday morning at Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis. From one coach to another, giving the greatest gift of all – the chance at a new beginning.
“It’s a restart kind of. An opportunity to go live your life and appreciate things a lot more,” Place said.
Linden said, “I can’t wait for him to feel better, but what I really can’t wait for is him to become a dad. April 28th will be a big day for the two of us.”