Two pool rivals form an enduring friendship, brought together by the life-saving gift of a kidney.

Ten years ago, James Harris Jr. and Russ Redhead, initially bitter rivals, met at The Bank Shot Bar & Grill in Maryland for an American Pool players Association tournament.

Both vied for a coveted prize: a free trip to Las Vegas, promising more chances at victory and bigger rewards.

Despite their competitive spirits, fate intervened, leading them down an unexpected path. One of them made a life-saving decision, forever altering the course of their relationship.

From adversaries to the closest of friends, their journey underscores the profound impact of compassion and solidarity in forging lasting bonds.


WMAR reported that during the game, Russ had to let James start with a 20-point lead, as per the rules. This rule greatly influenced the outcome of the game.

Russ was upset about losing, so he complained about James on Facebook.

But when their mutual friends saw his post, they stood up for James.

This made Russ realize he was wrong. He deleted the post and said sorry to James for what he did.

“I found out that James is a nice guy,” Russ, 42, told Good Morning America.

“We started doing things together, like going to tournaments and betting on people. That’s when we became friends.”


Over time, the pool players’ friendship became stronger as they shared their love for pool competitions.

However, in 2020, Harris got very sick from COVID-19, making his kidney disease worse. He had to get surgery for dialysis at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

James, who is now 54, said he didn’t know that needing dialysis meant his kidneys had stopped working and he might need a transplant. He also mentioned that doctors didn’t tell him everything all at once.


James joined the transplant waiting list at UMMC, aware it might take years to find a match.

When Denise, his wife, heard about his health, she volunteered to donate her kidney.

As a rehab service manager at UMMC, she went through tests at the hospital to see if she was a suitable donor.

“After completing all the tests, it became clear that I wasn’t a viable donor,” Denise revealed.

Denise went to a seminar by the National Kidney Foundation and talked about her husband needing a kidney on a Facebook group for pool players.

She asked friends and family to get tested to see if they could donate a kidney to him, hoping it would help him get a transplant faster.


During a pool tournament in November 2022, Denise told Russ about her husband’s health problems.

“After she outlined the requirements for donation, I immediately told her, ‘Okay, I’ll do it,’ ” Russ said.

Denise hugged Russ with tears in her eyes, thankful for his offer.

Over the next year, they stayed in touch while Russ went through many tests, like heart and lung checks and blood work, to see if he could donate.


While all of this was happening, James chose not to know about it to avoid getting too hopeful. He kept going to dialysis three times a week and waited on the transplant list, hoping for a match.

When Russ was confirmed as a perfect match, they both had surgery for a kidney transplant on February 8, 2024, at UMMC.


Russ went home from the hospital two days after the surgery, and James went home one day after Russ.

After their discharge from the hospital, James decided to test his skills at the pool in his basement, where Russ jokingly challenged him to a game for a kidney before the surgery.

Even though James couldn’t play at first, he was able to a few days later. Dr. Richard Ugarte, who took care of James, gave an update on his recovery in a video interview from UMMC one month after the surgery.

Dr. Ugarte said James is “doing very well.”

He mentioned that they usually see patients weekly for a month after the transplant, and this was James’ fourth visit. Dr. Ugarte said James is doing great and now only needs to come to the transplant clinic once a month for check-ups and lab work.


Dr. Ugarte also said that James is recovering as expected.

As James continues his recovery journey, he’s gearing up for his inaugural tournament post-transplant. Set in his hometown of Glen Burnie, Maryland, on April 20th, this event marks a significant milestone in his return to the pool scene.

He and his wife are also planning to visit Lebanon, Pennsylvania, in the fall when Russ opens his pool hall.

“Perhaps we weren’t closest buddies before, but now I feel like we’re best friends forever,” Russ expressed warmly.

“Russ isn’t just a BFF; he’s like a brother and part of our family now,” Denise added. “He’s family to us.”

Experience the touching tale of how these pool players became close friends despite their past rivalry.