Two Fishermen Share a Bond as Deep as the Ocean : Medicine: Five years ago, a chance meeting on the Hermosa Beach Pier led to Frank Rembert receiving a kidney transplanted from Rick Wilson.


The piece of bone that dangles from Frank Rembert's necklace is a reminder of the good luck that came to him when he pricked his finger while fishing off the Hermosa Beach Pier five years ago.

At the time, Rembert, 57, was undergoing dialysis every other day and fighting off bouts of depression while waiting for a donated kidney.

When he pricked his finger with a fishhook, Rick Wilson, who was fishing nearby, offered him a bandage and they struck up a conversation. Two days later, Wilson offered Rembert his kidney. And about eight months later, the organ was transplanted.

Now they both wear necklaces with a tiny piece of Rick Wilson's rib, which was removed from his side so doctors could take his kidney.

"There's no doubt in my mind that if I hadn't given this man a kidney, he'd be dead," Wilson said. "How could I have lived with myself knowing I was his only chance to live and he had died?"

When they met, Rembert had been on dialysis for a little over a year.

"Dialysis saves you and it kills you at the same time," Rembert said. "Sometimes the cure is worse than the problem . . . but it's either that or die."

Wilson, 41, who was recovering from a motorcycle accident that broke his back and leg, said he felt a driving force pulling him to the pier in the morning and evening. He couldn't explain it but now says he thinks it was fate.

His decision to have a life-threatening operation to help a stranger wasn't a popular one. Wilson's wife, Kim, was furious that he hadn't consulted her. A friend said Wilson should save his kidney in case one of his two daughters should ever need it.

A barrage of medical and psychological tests ensued. Although Rembert is African American and Wilson is white, their blood and tissue tests matched better than most siblings. But under hospital policy, only one objection from Wilson's family could have blocked the operation. And Kim Wilson was still furious.

"Just as I'm thinking about leaving him, I see this bumper sticker that says, 'Kidney Donors Save Lives,' " Kim said. "Tell me that's not a sign."

In April, 1990, doctors successfully transplanted Wilson's kidney into Rembert. Their story gained national attention, and Wilson became something of a hero.

Newspapers across the country ran articles on the two. A crowd of 500 people sang "You Are So Beautiful" to Wilson at a church. And a high school student wrote that his favorite American hero is Wilson.

"The fame and recognition is nice, but that's not what I did it for," Wilson said. "Knowing that Frank's alive because I'm here is a good feeling."

Even now, five years later, their story is still gaining national attention. Last month, KCET-TV aired a special on them, titled "Two Men and a Kidney."

Both men want to see their story circulate as much as possible because they want the world to know about the importance of donating organs.

Rembert tires easily and takes 10 medications a day with numerous side effects, including nausea, short-term memory loss, numbness, mood swings, diabetes, high blood pressure and hot flashes.

He is too ill to work, but he keeps busy training horses and dogs, talking with people about organ donation and helping his wife with her bath crystal business. And he has a passion for life, he says, that makes him wake up every morning thinking it's Christmas.

"I'm not letting things get to me anymore," he said. "Things that I don't have control over, I don't worry about. That's the way I'm trying to live my life now."

Like Rembert, Wilson's outlook on life is passionate and embracing. He spends time flying, fishing and sailing, despite an occasional pain in his side where the kidney was removed.

He carries half a dozen donor cards in his wallet. He donates blood and volunteers at the Red Cross and a blood bank. And when customers at the pet store where he works take out their driver's licenses to write a check, he gives them a hard time if they don't have a donor card.

Wilson has moved to Lomita and Rembert lives in Windsor Hills, and although they don't spend a lot of time together, they talk on the phone every week. And they try to go fishing as often as Rembert's health allows. They say that they will have a bond for life.

"How much closer can you get than when you're carrying around another man's kidney?" Rembert said.

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