Airman's selfless act gives renewed life to cousin

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jessica McConnell
  • Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs
An Airman and his wife decided to fly to Florida for a vacation during the month of June in 2010. This Airman had a cousin living in the Gainesville area and decided to give him a call so they could hang out. What started out as a normal easygoing conversation, quickly turned into a discussion centered on a severely ill family member who was in danger of losing his life.

Airman 1st Class David Maxwell, a 5th Communications Squadron communication security accountant here, had that discussion with his cousin's wife. Maxwell's cousin had a life-threatening kidney disease, and was in desperate need of a transplant. After doing a lot of research and talking it over with his family, Maxwell made the decision to help and volunteered to donate a kidney to his cousin.

His cousin, Austin Pumneo,  had been diagnosed with Nephrosclerosis, which is a condition that causes the outer layer of the kidney to harden and can lead to kidney failure.

Pumneo has a wife and two children. Due to his condition, he wasn't able to play with his children, go on walks or even ride his bike with the family. He was losing his life, and his family was losing their father, husband, and son.

"I put a lot of thought and time into this decision," Maxwell said. "I talked with my family and my wife and decided it was the best decision. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. I had the opportunity to make it right, so I did."

"I felt such a sense of relief and happiness," Pumneo said. "It had been such a tough road, and to feel like I could have a chance to live a normal life was a tremendous feeling. I was amazed. He's a true inspiration to others on what it means to give the gift of life."

To ensure he was a match, Maxwell said he had to travel to Florida and go through extensive testing, which included blood tests, a physical test, heart tests, as well as a psychological exam to ensure no one was forcing him to donate a kidney.

The surgery took place at Shands Medical Center in Gainesville. Maxwell said he wasn't nervous until about a week before the surgery took place.

"I knew I was in good hands," said Maxwell. "My surgeon had never had a fatality or any mishaps in the 2,000 surgeries he'd performed in the past. I was mostly nervous about whether Austin's body would reject my kidney or not."

The surgery went well. Maxwell recovered fast and was released from the hospital less than five days after the surgery.

"The pain decreased significantly before I was even released from the hospital," Maxwell said. "I was almost back to normal about a month after the surgery."

Following the surgery, Maxwell said his cousin was doing much better.

"He said that he is loving life," Maxwell said. "I think he's in a better frame of mind. He also had all his medicines reduced to the minimum so he no longer has the crazy side effects. He's able to work out again and get back to his normal life. I'm just happy to save a family member."

While Maxwell was gone for the surgery, he said his shop was very understanding of the situation and helped his wife out in his absence.

His unit leaders said that this act is not very out of character for Maxwell.

"Airman Maxwell embodies everything it means to be selfless," said Master Sgt. Cheryl Voeste, the 5th Communications Squadron cyber surety and information assurance superintendent. "If anyone ever needs help, he's one of the first to volunteer. It is very much in character for him to perform such an act."

Maxwell said he always does what he can to help people and that his kidney donation just reinforced that.

"I know giving a kidney is a huge help, and I would do it again," he said. "Putting Austin's life back on track makes me very happy. I don't know a more deserving person than Austin.

"The best part of this experience is knowing this act gave life back to a son, a husband, and a father," Maxwell continued. "This donation diverted what could have been a family tragedy."

Pumneo said his family feels so blessed to have him back at full strength.

"My son and daughter can go on bike rides and walks with me," Pumneo said. "We can go swimming and do all the activities a healthy 31-year-old can do. I look forward to coaching my 5-year-old son over the summer."

"David (Maxwell) is the brother I never had," he continued. "He has blessed me with the chance to reach my goals and dreams, and for that, I will always be grateful. More than me, my children thank him dearly for giving their daddy a kidney."

Maxwell and Pomneo are now closer than ever, and a family that once might have been broken, is back to normal and enjoying life more than ever.