That eventually led to Daniel and his brother Josh, a former NFL wide receiver who played two seasons with Washington after starring at Virginia Tech, ending up on a pair of operating tables in March.
“I was overwhelmed with joy and worry,” Lawanda said, “because I was not going to have just one son going through a major surgery in a pandemic, but the other one going under with him. So it still had you very worried until all that was over with.”
All of Lawanda and Dennis Morgan’s boys were given biblical names — Joshua, 35, Daniel, 33, and Adam, 30. Lawanda preached that the bonds between them are all that matters. She encouraged them to learn about their namesakes, and Josh seemed to take that to heart. When he saw the toll that dialysis was taking on his brother, he knew he would do anything to help.
“It’s one of those situations, as a big brother, when you’re always the protector,” Josh said. “You’re like: ‘God, just give me the pain. Don’t make him go through it.’ … It was like he was deteriorating. All of his energy was just gone. It was like watching him grow into an old man overnight.
“It was scary for me because I couldn’t imagine life without my brother.”
Dennis, 60, was a healthy match and quickly volunteered to be a donor for his son, but doctors hoped to find a younger match — the healthier, the better. That’s when big brother stepped up.
Josh, who played in the NFL from 2008 to 2014, is now an entrepreneur with his own business and has done some acting, coaching and mentoring.
He desperately wanted to be a match, but others expressed concerns. Major surgery seemed particularly fraught during the novel coronavirus pandemic, and hospitals across the country have seen a drop in scheduled surgeries in the months since it began.
Still, that didn’t dissuade Josh.
“People thought I was crazy, but I just always considered myself the sacrificial lamb” for my family, said Josh, who has a 6-year-old son, Josh Jr. “He needed that kidney. And if my son ever needed a kidney, too, then he’s going to have mine and you’re just going to put me to sleep. That was just always my mentality.”
The 115 organ transplants performed between March and May at the MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute, including 90 kidney transplants, were the most by any hospital in the country, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
MedStar executive director Thomas Fishbein called those with organ failure some of the most vulnerable among us and said lifesaving transplants were so critical that there was an emphasis placed on creating an environment where that could continue. Matthew Cooper, who performed the surgeries on the Morgan brothers, said there was a premium placed on high-risk patients, including those going to dialysis centers where the risk of infection is high.
“We’re weakening their immune system to allow for the transplant to be successful,” Cooper said. “That also weakens your immune system to fight off the virus. . . . That’s why the decision was not taken lightly and why it was important to make sure that we had the ability to test whenever it was necessary, the appropriate safety precautions in place after transplant.”
Daniel now has three kidneys, because the procedure attaches a healthy one but doesn’t remove the nonfunctioning ones. Josh is down to a single kidney, but Cooper said donors continue to live normal, healthy lifestyles without any dietary restrictions or additional medications.
Daniel went from 280 pounds before getting sick to 209 and is back up to 235. He has a few dietary restrictions but is full-go working at the Upper Marlboro detention center and getting back to a normal life.
“It was only by the grace of God that can actually have somebody go through that and be that sacrificial lamb for his family,” Daniel said of Josh. “There definitely were moments where I shed tears. It was just times where at night I couldn’t really sleep because it was just on my mind. This whole process, it was like, ‘I just can’t wait for it to be over with.’
“I know you’re not supposed to question God, but I used to just ask God: ‘Why me? What did I do to go through this?’ All of this stuff wasn’t always perfect. It ain’t perfect now. I definitely had my dark moments at night, though, and my dark moments where I just shed tears on my own.”
Daniel woke up in a recovery room March 26 feeling better than he had in a long time. He hadn’t seen his brother since check-in and they were recovering on separate floors as a safety precaution, so he pulled out the phone for a video chat.
Because Dennis and Lawanda weren’t allowed to be in the hospital, their two sons weren’t even awake when doctors called family members.
The news was especially relieving for Dennis, whose father, Louis, died at the same hospital in 1989 during surgery to address cancer in his bloodstream.
“The elation of that, I can’t even describe,” Dennis said of the post-surgery phone call. “It’s one of those situations where I know the neighbors were like, ‘What is going on?!’ That was a primal scream of elation just to know they had both come through with flying colors.”