John Gladwell and Billy Welsh first met when they served together in the Marine Corps. They did not get along.
“We did not like each other while we were in,” Gladwell recalled. “He was 17, he was young, he was too enthusiastic. I just wanted to go home. I wanted out,” he mused.
“He was a jerk,” Welsh reflected of Gladwell. However, they stayed in touch through social media, but did not speak for many years. More than two decades after they met, Welsh made a post on social media saying he needed a kidney. Welsh had been diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) at 30-years-old and was rapidly deteriorating.
Gladwell saw the post and contemplated over the similarity in age of his grandson and Welsh's son, and this spurred him into action.
“I wasn’t going to let his son grow up without his dad being there for everything,” said Gladwell.
Welsh was stunned when he heard the news that Gladwell had himself tested. Furthermore, they were an extremely compatible match.
"I did it... because you never leave a Marine behind." said Gladwell.
When the results came back, Gladwell did not want to wait, he immediately started making calls to hospitals and traveled over 1,000 miles from Kansas City to Philadelphia.
On October 13, 2020, the pair underwent a successful 10-hour surgery, and the ordeal formed a bond "closer than family."
"It's almost like we were best friends growing up and we have never been apart. It's like you're so annoying, but you're so funny. That's why we like each other," John Gladwell said shortly after the operation.
Headed to the Super Bowl together
When news of the story reached Eagles President Don Smolenski, he coordinated with his Chiefs counterpart Mark Donovan, and set up an all-expenses-paid Super Bowl trip for Gladwell and Welsh.
“The opportunity to bring these two guys together, their two teams playing on the biggest stage in sports, it’s very, very humbling and gratifying,” said Smolenski.
The former Marines were excited to watch their respective teams play in the big game, but Welsh said he's especially excited they "get to trash talk each other for three hours too."