Bobby and Cedric Lewis shuffled down a hallway at the Washington Hospital Center last week, side by side, a father in plaid pajamas and slippers and his son in sweat pants and high-top basketball shoes.
They walked slowly and carefully, because three days earlier, Cedric, a former University of Maryland basketball player, donated a kidney to his father.
Bobby, 57, said this was the best Christmas present he could possibly receive. Cedric, 30, said the best part was that he beat the mall rush and didn't have to turn to online shopping to find the gift.
Father and son smiled at the joke. They couldn't laugh like they usually do--they were still sore from the operations and the stitches--but it hardly mattered. There will be plenty of time for laughing later, thanks to the transplant.
Seven years ago, doctors told Bobby Lewis, who lives in Temple Hills, that he had kidney problems that would eventually require dialysis or a transplant. He shared the information with his wife Gertie, but did not tell his sons, Cedric and Derrick, until about 18 months ago, when the problem worsened. Medication proved to be ineffective; a transplant would be a way to avoid dialysis.
Gertie was willing to donate, but was eliminated as a possible donor because of borderline hypertension. Cedric was willing, healthy and a match. The transplant took place on Dec. 13.
Cedric said he had no doubts that donating his kidney was the right thing to do. "I just wanted to help my father," he said. Although doctors were reassuring, Gertie couldn't help but be worried. Cedric, after all, is a husband and a father himself, to 3-year-old Cedric Jr.
"My heart was in turmoil, because it meant that two loved ones would be at risk," Gertie Lewis said. "All I could think of was this vital organ that would be transplanted. I really didn't want it to happen, but I left the decision up to him. It's a sign of Cedric's true character that he wanted to do this. He is a very loving and caring person, and quite naturally his father came first."
Cedric's wife of eight years, Evette, also had her concerns. "I didn't want to be a widow at 29," Evette said. "It was a surgery, and there are risks. But Cedric is the optimist. I'm the 'what-if?' person. I also knew that I couldn't ask him to not do it. If I was faced with the same situation, I would do the same thing for my mother or father."
The Lewis family has always been close. Bobby, who played basketball at Elizabeth City (N.C.) State University in the late 1960s, coached Derrick and Cedric's teams at the Silver Hill Boys and Girls Club while the boys were growing up. Both Derrick and Cedric played basketball at Carroll High School (Derrick graduated in 1984, Cedric in 1987) and the University of Maryland, and Bobby and Gertie never missed a game. Derrick is Maryland's all-time leading shot blocker, Cedric is No. 2.
When Cedric and Evette started dating as college students, they spent their Friday nights at his parents' house. When Cedric was playing basketball in Europe, he called his parents once a week. Now that he's back in the area, he calls them every day.
"There was no question about what Cedric would do when he found out his father needed a kidney," Evette said. "I'm sure his brother would have done the same thing without hesitation, because that's the level of concern they share. They are a very tightknit family."
Over the summer, Cedric worked out with former Maryland players Tony Massenburg and Obinna Ekezie, who were getting ready for NBA training camps. Cedric said he briefly thought about trying to attend a training camp, but decided not to, knowing that the surgery would take place in the fall or winter.
"I was no longer playing basketball professionally, so that didn't factor into the decision," said Cedric, who played for seven years in Europe. "I wasn't giving anything up. But even if I was still playing basketball, I think that I would do the same thing [and donate the kidney]. Some things are bigger than sports."
Cedric will be able to start lifting weights again in four to six weeks, and he will be able to play basketball again, if he chooses. Basketball is still a part of his life, but in a different way; he is an assistant with the Carroll basketball team, and he occasionally helps the Potomac boys team. Cedric lives in Bowie and works for American Communications Network, helping people set up businesses.
Cedric was discharged from the hospital last Wednesday, and his father was released over the weekend. Gertie Lewis says that she is overwhelmed and proud of her son, who shrugs off the notion that what he did was special or heroic.
"I think that a hero is someone who would go out and knock a kid out of the way in front of traffic or something," Cedric said. "And the truth is, I don't know if I could do that. This was an opportunity to help my father, and I didn't have to think about what to do.
"My parents have provided me with a lot in life, and this was a chance for me to pay them back."
CAPTION: Cedric Lewis, 30, right, who played basketball at Carroll High and at the University of Maryland, gave a kidney to his father, Bobby, 57.