Even Marines Need a Hero

David Pope and Chris Kilpatrick | Courtesy of Kym Pope

by Matt Koch

Editor's Note: In honor of Veterans Day and the 247th birthday of the United States Marine Corps (USMC), celebrated Nov. 11 and Nov. 10, respectively, we are honored to share this story from USMC Captain Matt Koch of Shawhan Place, a second-generation Marine following his father, longtime Claiborne Farm manager Robert “Gus” Koch. Matt, who will be honored next month as the 2022 Ted Bates Farm Manager of the Year by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club (KTFMC), is also the state representative of the 72nd district (Bourbon, Nicholas, and Fleming Counties).

Even Marines need a hero. Mine is David Pope. David is quiet, he goes to church every Sunday, and he works for a Thoroughbred farm in Bourbon County. His wife Kym works at the local extension office, and to put it simply, they are just good people. Good people who have done something extraordinary. David stepped up and donated a kidney to a man in another state whom he had never met. I don't think I can tell this story without first starting with my father's journey.

My father received his final orders last year after a long, hard fight with kidney cancer. USMC Sergeant Gus Koch proudly served in Vietnam from 1966-67. Thirty years later, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and that started the fight that continued for the next 25 years. Whether it was the Agent Orange or the drinking water at Camp Lejeune, we don't know for sure. Dad had a kidney removed, faced multiple rounds of chemo, had brain tumors and stomach tumors. We moved up countless family weddings and anniversary celebrations because doctors told us Dad wouldn't make it six more months. The Marine in him wouldn't stop. He saw all 10 of his children graduate college, get married, and start families.

It wasn't long after Dad passed away that I learned the story of one of my Marines from Afghanistan. Corporal Chris Kilpatrick and I worked in the S-2 (intelligence) shop together. On Oct. 31, 2019, Chris had been diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD). He was in end-stage renal failure and in urgent need of a transplant.

PKD is normally an inherited disease, but in this case, it was due to the toxic exposures to the burn pits which we were exposed to in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no cure, and the only option is a kidney transplant.

Chris's story hit me pretty hard. I started the donation process. Many others also started the process and were weeded out. In January, 2022 I shared the post about Chris on Facebook. I didn't say anything about Dad or the back story. Unbeknownst to me, a friend of my father, David Pope, saw the post and felt the call to action. Just a month prior, while attending Christmas Eve mass with his family in Ohio, David had heard a sermon about giving of yourself. He prayed for an opportunity that he may have that chance. The Popes didn't realize that something would come along so soon. When David and Kym saw the Facebook post they thought maybe they should give it a try, with the thought that there was no way he would match. He started the process and passed stage 1. He continued the journey and passed again.

David ended up being such a good match that the doctors said it was almost like they were brothers. He traveled several times from Kentucky to Florida for a man he never met and to make a major life decision. He was going to give Chris a kidney.

When David called to tell me he was going to be the donor, I shed a few tears. You see, he had been friends with my father. They shared common bonds of being in the horse industry and served in the Knights of Columbus together at the Church of the Annunciation in Paris. He didn't know that Dad's cancer was service related.

Far too often veterans believe we live on an island. We can rest easy knowing that good men and women like David Pope have our backs. David, we salute you for having our backs when times were bad. Gunny Brossette, our Intel Shop Staff NCO (Noncommissioned Officer), said it best: “David, although you were never in uniform, you saved the life of one of our Marines and that, sir, makes you one of us for life.”

David and Chris are both recovering and doing well.

Happy Birthday, Marines!

Semper Fi, David.

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