Finding Purpose, Sharing Hope

A friendship formed at freshman orientation leads to a life-altering donation

After working more than 20 years in corporate America, Raymel Speed (’91) was restless. Like many people, he felt destined for a higher purpose, but he did what most people are too afraid to do – he quit his job and went back to school in his 40s. Speed earned his teaching certificate and became an elementary school teacher, something he refers to as the best decision of his life. As noble as it was to go from tycoon to teacher, he still had more to give. In the summer of 2017, Speed was able to provide an old friend and fellow Bulldog a new lease on life.

Kevin Mott (’91) knew the worst was coming sooner or later. Doctors diagnosed his chronic kidney disease early on, but as his condition worsened over the years he was experiencing loss of energy. The very drugs he was taking to stay alive were beginning to negatively affect his quality of life. In 2015, he was told he would need dialysis or a transplant.

Mott had been somewhat private about his condition, but as it became dire, he reached out to a select group of friends through email.

“I never asked anyone for a kidney,” he said. “I let people know my situation and what I needed.”

One of the people who received that initial message was Speed. After meeting at freshman orientation in the late 1980s, he and Mott have been friends ever since. Both men acknowledge their relationship waxed and waned over the years, but they always made a point to stay in touch. Speed even worked in Mott’s hometown of Chicago for a while before returning to his roots in St. Louis.

“We just checked in here and there, or saw each other at weddings or when either of us would come to town,” Mott said. “Ray is someone I know I can trust to be there for me and properly help me deal with issues in my life.”

Before he was finished reading Mott’s message, Speed said he knew he would be a match to donate a kidney. The only question in his mind was whether or not he could go through with the surgery.

“I didn’t want to make an emotional decision I couldn’t back up with action,” Speed said. “I also didn’t want to send Kevin on an emotional roller coaster by saying yes I’d donate then backing out because of nerves.”

On Nov. 23, 2016, Mott widened the circle of people who knew about his condition. He posted it to Facebook on his birthday.

“I figured I’d get the highest number of people paying attention that day,” he said.

Mutual friend and Truman alumna Elizabeth Rolf Kanerva (’91) took the screening test to see if she was a match. Although she was not, her subsequent Facebook post urging others to get tested was the final sign Speed needed after 10 months of contemplation. He ordered the testing kit the next day. Just as he predicted, he was a match. 

Once the decision was made, the intensity of the situation increased. Speed drove to Chicago for several days of testing and medical consultation, and Mott’s support system established a GoFundMe account to spread the word and help with travel and recovery expenses for the two.

“His friends and family were the most supportive group of people I’ve ever met,” Speed said. “They were so very lovely and welcoming. I felt like I’d known them for years.”

The procedure was scheduled to coincide with Speed’s summer break. Following the transplant in July, he was in the hospital three days but did not consider himself fully recovered until October.

After his five-day stay in the hospital, Mott missed nearly three months of work as a financial advisor, but has since taken well to his new kidney. Little things such as restroom availability or the ability to sit through a meeting are less of a concern for him now, as are drug side effects like weight fluctuation.    

“I have so much more energy,” he said. “My prognosis is excellent. You can never tell how long a donated kidney will last, but we’re hoping for a long, long time.”

Mott knows he owes Speed a debt of gratitude that can never fully be paid. While he is not at all surprised by his friend’s selfless actions, this chapter of their lives has understandably brought them closer.

“I can’t thank him enough, but it doesn’t change my opinion of him. This is who I always thought he was, a caring, tough and giving individual,” Mott said. “My friends and family are happy to get this chance to know him.”

For his part, Speed remains humble about his donation and seems happy to have been in a position to help his friend.

“I never in a million years would have guessed I’d do something like this,” he said. “I wanted to find my purpose in life, and I guess being open to accepting that, in whatever form it shows up in my life, helped me move forward and fight through whatever fear I had.”

With both men on the road to recovery, their friendship can return to the good-humored vibe it normally had during the last 30 years.

“Life is good,” Speed said. “And I can forever hold ‘that time I gave you a kidney’ over his head.”

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