With all the negativity surrounding the National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens lately, Ma’ake Kemoeatu is bringing some goodness back around.
The 35-year-old defensive tackle recently revealed that his retirement from the game and his departure from the Ravens in 2012 was because his brother Chris, a former Pittsburg Steeler, had to end his own career due to ongoing kidney problems that caused him to need a transplant. Ma’ake, the oldest of seven Kemoeatu children, saw his brother’s struggle and decided he couldn’t play the game they both loved if his brother was no longer able to do so.
“He couldn’t play anymore, and I didn’t want to be in a position where he couldn’t play but I’d keep playing.”
Ma’ake made the decision to donate a kidney to Chris over a year and a half ago, and the surgery finally took place, successfully, on August 27. Kemoeatu and his younger brother spent years as rivals on the football field, but the former Raven says that off the field, his family is front and center.
“I’m the oldest of the seven kids, and it’s my responsibility to take care of my younger brothers and sisters. If my younger siblings need blood, it’ll be my blood,” Ma’ake told ESPN.
The Tonga-born Kemoeatu brothers both began their football careers at the University of Utah, and were signed to the NFL within three years of each other. Chris says that the surgery strengthened the already-close siblings’ bond.
“It definitely brought us closer as brothers,” Kemoeatu says.
Ma’ake says that he decided to retire in 2012 in order to devote his time to preparing for the surgery. Kemoeatu told ABC News that in order to be in the best possible physical shape for the procedure, he had to lose “about 45 to 55 pounds” and his diet needed to change drastically if he was to live the rest of his life with one kidney.
“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.”
Neither Kemoeatu knows what the future will hold when it comes to their respective football careers, but for now both have said that they are considering returning to Hawaii after their six-week long recovery. Ma’ake and his younger brother both said that their teams are fully supportive and check in with them regularly.
Ma’ake Kemoeatu played for the Ravens from 2002 until 2005 and joined them again in 2012 before retiring.