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Marine is sure, but the corps?

Jimmy Drish's dad needed a kidney. The lance corporal was a match; but he had to get the service's OK.

February 11, 2007|Jo Napolitano | Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Jimmy Drish was drawn to the stoical composure of the Marines: the way they looked and acted, so orderly and in control.

"That's what I wanted, that pride, that brotherhood," he said.

Drish, 24, interrupted his college education to enlist, graduating from boot camp in January 2006. He looked forward to serving overseas. Then he got bad news. His father, James, a retired Chicago police officer with diabetes, needed a kidney transplant, and none of Drish's half sisters was a match.

When a doctor told him his blood type matched that of his father, there really was no choice, Drish said; he had to volunteer: "He gave me life."

Drish decided he would drop out of the military to save his deteriorating father from the travails of kidney failure and dialysis. The physical demands of his duties with the Marines would not be possible with one kidney, he said.

But when Drish informed his sergeant of his plan last summer, he said, he was told he was the property of the Marines. At the time, his dad's kidneys were working at 11% of normal capacity. When his 63-year-old father returned home from dialysis, he looked beaten. He was losing weight. Some days, he looked as if he wasn't going to make it.

"I told one of the people in charge of me, and he said, 'I don't think the Marine Corps is going to let you go, but I'll check into it,' " Drish said. "I waited on it and brought it up a month later. Again he said he'd check on it, and I never heard back."

Finally, a new sergeant came on board and Drish tried again.

"I told the sergeant what was going on," Drish said, adding that he wasn't concentrating at work. "The next week, he had an answer for me: 'I talked to the higher-ups and they said, "What you want to do is great; just give us a date as to when you need to go home.' "

The men underwent surgery last month. Drish, a lance corporal, will be honorably discharged for medical reasons, he said.

Although Drish is happy with his decision, he struggles with guilt over leaving his fellow Marines behind. A Marine spokesman said Drish's platoon was now in Southeast Asia, and the news was bittersweet.

"They're going to be going to Iraq eventually," Drish said. "I just want to be there with them. We did everything together; they're my best friends. With one less guy, it's a lot harder on them. I was a squad leader. Now I'm not there with them. It's tough."

Drish said he and his father had always been close. James Drish adored his three girls but reveled in having a son.

"When I was little, I'd hear his car coming down the end of the block," Drish said. "I would run outside, and he would pick me up. He was smiling. He was always in a good mood. He liked to spoil me."

This kidney was an opportunity for the son to give back.

James Drish was reluctant to accept the gift at first but is grateful to have a better quality of life.

"He's my hero, he really is," the father said. "One of the worst things about dialysis is the side effects: the headaches, cramping, nausea. It's quite an ordeal. I feel blessed."

Drish's mother, Marilyn, a Chicago police officer, had mixed feelings about her son's decision.

"I wanted him to complete [his military service] because I believe in finishing what you've started, but I think it's a wonderful thing that he's done for his father," she said.

And while she helps her husband and son get back on their feet, she can't help but be a little relieved that her boy isn't about to be shipped to Iraq.

"I was worried about that," she said. "I knew he would eventually end up there. To me, he's still my baby."

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