By LaReeca Rucker
The hunter spent his spare time chasing deer in Mississippi when he wasn’t chasing fires. Starkville firefighter Rob Robinson, 44, had been stalking bucks in his home state for years, but when he learned that Kansas, his sister’s home state, was one of the best places to turkey hunt, Robinson made several trips there throughout the years until he scored a record-breaking kill in 2007 that ranked seventh in the world.
Motivated by success, Robinson, who lives on Starnes Tabernacle Road in Webster County, decided to go for the “Grand Slam of Turkeys” in 2008, and wandered upon 1,600 acres of farmland owned by Gillan “Gil” Alexander in Nicodemus, Kan. He had no idea that when he knocked on Alexander’s door, he would eventually save his life. The chance meeting later led Robinson to donate a kidney to Alexander.
The two held a fundraiser Saturday at Starkville’s Tractor Supply for an organization they have created called Forever Outdoors.
The organization will take wounded veterans on hunting excursions, help children with disabilities and physical challenges, and promote organ donation. Alexander flew in from Kansas for the event.
“We are selling barbecue plates, having a car wash, raffling off a few items and having a silent auction,” Robinson said before the event. Robinson stood in Alexander’s door less than two minutes the first time he met him asking permission to hunt on his land.
Alexander agreed, and four years passed before Robinson showed up again at his door requesting permission a second time.
“This time, I asked could I pitch a tent in his yard,” he said.
During the two-week campout, Robinson and Alexander became closer.
They talked about their families and commonalities. Both had lost their parents. Neither had kids of his own but had helped raised others’ children. They liked watching many of the same television shows — mostly police dramas and college sports. And both loved the outdoors.
In his short stay, Robinson also noticed that Alexander was on dialysis despite the fact that he farmed 3,000 acres daily.
Diagnosed with a rare kidney disease called focal and segmental glomerulosclerosis in 1992, Alexander was living with the illness that affects the kidney’s filtering system, causing scarring and a loss of large amounts of protein in the urine.
“It took 20 years for mine to finally progress for needing a transplant,” he said.
Robinson took note and felt like he wanted to help his new friend. During a hunting trip to Nebraska, his mission became clear.
“I came upon a dark cloud close to the ground, and it had a bunch of sun rays coming through, just like the lights of heaven shining down,” he said. “It just told me that everything in my life was going to be OK, and to just trust in God. Helping Gil was part of it.”
That meant giving Alexander one of his kidneys.
“He never asked me to do this,” said Robinson. “I called him and asked what I had to do to become a donor.”
Alexander said, “I had to hang up the phone a while before I could call him back. I just lost it.”
Even more amazing was the fact that Robinson’s kidney was a match.
“They sent a bloodwork test down here,” he said. “When I found out I was a match, (Alexander) ended up calling me and broke down crying. There’s people who are related to their donors who don’t even come up with a match.”
Alexander said he knew it was divine intervention.
“He was as close a match as a sibling would be, which solidified the fact that God was working,” he said. “God set it up just like it was supposed to happen. He’s my little brother; no doubt about that.”
The operation was scheduled the Monday before Thanksgiving.
“It was the most spiritual Thanksgiving ever,” said Robinson. “Gil called me his living angel, and he nicknamed his kidney ‘Mississippi.’”
Because of the timing of the transplant, doctors also discovered pancreatic cancer in its early stages and removed the mass from Alexander, something they might not have caught early enough if the transplant hadn’t been scheduled at that time.
“It was meant to be,” said Robinson. “I got to know him, and a year later, I’m donating my kidney. I was basically with him less than two weeks from the time I met him that second time to the time of the transplant. Folks say, ‘How could you do that? You know some people wouldn’t even do it for a family member.’ It’s just like the Lord told me that’s what I needed to do, and I had zero reservations about doing it.”
The two hope that their new organization will encourage people to keep fighting, Alexander said.
“There were some pretty dark days waiting on a kidney, and in some respects, I should feel guilty,” he said. “A lot of people die every day waiting, and someone literally knocked on my door and offered me one. Those kind of blessings need to be shared to let people know that miracles do happen.”
Today, Alexander, 56, is not 100 percent healthy, but he’s farming again full-time.
“It wasn’t anybody but a spirit or God who could have put this together the way it happened,” he said. “I just know that Rob was sent to my door for a purpose.”
The experience also changed Alexander’s false perceptions about the “the hospitality state,” he said.
“I think it’s Hebrews 13:2 that says, ‘Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.’ ”
For more information about Forever Outdoors, call (662) 341-0404. Learn more about organ donation at www.organdonor.gov/index.html.