By JOHN MILBURN
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two hunters brought together by a love of the outdoors formed a friendship leading one to donate a kidney to the other, a friendship that has led to a foundation aimed at sharing the outdoors with others.
Rob Robinson, a 45-year-old firefighter from Starkville, Miss., happened to knock on Gil Alexander's door in 2008 in northwest Kansas seeking permission to hunt pheasant. Robinson returned three years later, this time to hunt turkey on Alexander's property.
“I didn't remember his name, but I knew the voice and Mississippi,” Alexander said Tuesday of their second meeting.
That's when Robinson learned that Alexander was ill and needed a kidney transplant to prolong his life. Robinson returned to Mississippi and got tested and found out he was a match, in fact closer than if they were brothers.
“He texted me and said `I'm a match',” Alexander said. “I put down the phone and started to cry.”
Robinson, a soft-spoken man of few words, jokes that giving the kidney wasn't required for getting permission to hunt, but felt like the right thing to do.
“I never thought I would be an organ donor, let alone a living one,” he said.
The two went to a Kansas City Chiefs football game together then went to the hospital the next day for the surgery on Nov. 26, 2012. In the process, Alexander also learned he had early stages of pancreatic cancer, which doctors were able to remove.
“I just feel like the most blessed person on the planet,” said Alexander, 56.
The transplant gave Alexander new life, allowing him to stop dialysis and to continue farming his nearly 3,000 acres north of Nicodemus. The men decided to build on their friendship and start Forever Outdoors, an organization that brings wounded veterans, children and others to northwest Kansas to experience hunting and nature.
Alexander and Robinson met with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and other state wildlife officials Tuesday to talk about their organization and to raise awareness of the need for organ donors.
Robinson, who holds the record for one of the largest turkeys ever shot, said he always wanted to start a hunting business and the connection with Alexander is helping him fulfill that dream. The two are hoping to create a “five-star resort” where people can come experience hunting and the outdoors by overcoming any physical or financial obstacles.
“I also want to turn my house in Mississippi into a lodge,” Robinson said.
Alexander, a fourth-generation Kansas farmer, said his great-grandfather was from Mississippi and was a Buffalo Soldier in the Army. He's traveled to the South to see his friend and promote their foundation.