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Blood Brothers


According to Johanna, Felix’s incident had been an accident. He was backing up her minivan in a parking lot when a teenager rode his bicycle behind them. Suddenly, a man ran up, banged on the minivan, and started hollering at them, accusing Felix of trying to hit the kid. To stop the argument from escalating, Johanna shouted, “We’ve gotta get out of here now!” Felix hit the accelerator—he says he thought the vehicle was in reverse, but it was in drive—and he struck a woman walking by. “It’s not Felix’s fault,” Johanna says. “He hit the lady by mistake.”

Nevertheless, the odds were stacked against Felix, since he already had one violent felony on his record. And now, on top of everything else, he’d let down Rob—exactly the fate he’d been trying to avoid. And to Rob, it seemed like he was right back where he’d started. Months of appointments and tests and interviews at two hospitals—with nothing to show for it. He knew that if Felix was found guilty, he would be gone for a long time—too long for Rob to wait.

Six days after his arrest, Felix was still locked up. On the morning of April 15, he found himself inside a holding cell at Manhattan Criminal Court, waiting to appear before a judge. All morning long, defendants paraded through courtroom 219, each standing before the judge for just a minute or two. Shortly before noon, an officer led in Felix, his wrists cuffed behind his back.

In a hushed conversation at the judge’s bench, a court-appointed lawyer named Cory Forman tried to convey the urgency of the situation. But there would be no miracles today: A few minutes later, a guard whisked Felix back to a holding cell. At Forman’s request, however, the judge did order the Department of Correction to bring Felix to Mount Sinai for his final appointment a few days later—and the transplant operation the week after.

It was an accomplishment of sorts, but from the lawyer’s point of view, it was no guarantee: You couldn’t always count on the city’s guards to get an inmate to the right place at the right time. The best way to ensure that Felix showed up at the hospital was to get him out of jail altogether. The next day, Felix’s lawyer asked another judge to lower the bail. This is typically a tough fight to win, but in this case the district attorney’s office gave its approval, and a judge dropped the bail to $3,000.

To free Felix, Johanna figured out that she needed to put down $1,200 for a $3,000 bond. She collected $600 from Rob, $200 from Felix’s mom, and she covered the rest—$280 from her unemployment check and $120 in overdraft from her bank account. At 3:30 p.m. on April 17, after eight nights in jail, Felix staggered down the courthouse steps, looking bleary-eyed and slightly stunned. Partly it was the lack of sleep—he’d gotten on a bus at 4 a.m. to come to court—but partly, it seemed, he couldn’t quite believe he was free. His decision to give Rob a kidney had rescued him from Rikers, at least for now. And as he explained to Johanna, “I never in my life heard a judge say good luck.”

Felix had missed one hospital appointment while he was locked up, forcing Rob to reveal to Mount Sinai where he was. But when they both showed up on April 21 for their final visit, nobody seemed to hold this against them. Here they were “Mr. Aponte” and “Mr. Sanchez,” two patients, a donor and a recipient. Rob had on his usual work attire: corduroy suit jacket, long-sleeved dress shirt, dark jeans, leather belt. Felix wore a Plaxico Burress jersey, prison tattoos visible on both arms.

In the exam room, Rob climbed onto the table; Felix settled into a chair by his side. Mark L. Sturdevant, a transplant surgeon, spoke for an hour about what the operations would entail. Then he asked Rob to step outside so he could talk to Felix alone.

To Felix, he gave the standard it’s-not-too-late-to-get-out-of-this spiel: “Over this coming weekend, if things just don’t feel right, if you start getting cold feet … call me,” he said. “I can make sure that you can step back, have some time, or like I said, just not do it, and everything will be fine.”

“No. I’m good.”

“Nobody ever expects people to do this. This is something that is, you know, very heroic to do. And I want to make sure that you know that you can confide in me, and I can medically unclear you, so to speak.” In other words, he could provide some cover so Felix could back out while trying to keep his friendship with Rob intact.


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