A More Perfect Union: Strangers swap kindness and a kidney

On any given day, around 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a kidney transplant. About 5,000 people a year die waiting. As part of our ongoing series "A More Perfect Union," we meet two strangers whose chance meeting at a Cracker Barrel changed both their lives forever.

Pastor Edgar Roberts has waited six years for this day: a life-saving kidney transplant. John Branson is the kidney donor — and Roberts' answered prayer. 

In April of 2016, the two men met improbably at a Cracker Barrel in Valdosta, Georgia.  

"I walked in, I saw a guy, Edgar, sitting at the table by himself and he had a marine hat on, my son was just getting ready, graduating from naval academy and I walked up and started talking to him," Branson said.

Roberts, a Vietnam combat vet, is now a 70- year-old grandfather of two. Branson, a 51-year-old police lieutenant in Anderson, Indiana, was passing through Georgia on his way to a Florida vacation.

Branson says the two of them hit it off right away.

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Edgar Roberts and John Branson

CBS News

"I could tell he wasn't feeling very well. That's why I asked him what was wrong 'cause he just looked drained," Branson said.

"I just came off dialysis," Roberts explained. "I was wiped out."

Roberts had lost both his kidneys to cancer and was receiving dialysis three days a week.  He had been on the transplant wait list for three years. For three months after that chance meeting, the two men swapped phone calls.

Roberts' health kept declining. Branson called again.

"He said, 'I am ready.' He said, 'I will give you a kidney,'" Roberts recalled. What went through his mind when he heard those words? "I was saying thank you Jesus."

"You don't get to meet too many strangers you know right away are good people without exception. And that's the way I feel about Edgar," Branson said. "I've got an extra kidney. I thought let's give it a shot and see if I am a match."

Turns out, Branson was a perfect match.

Dr. Kristopher Croome of the Mayo Clinic will perform the transplant later today.

When asked if he'd ever heard of a donation quite like this, Croome said, "Not like this. The chance of their meeting and them both going to a place they weren't normally planning to go on that morning. I think seems like it's just fate."

At Roberts' church this past Sunday, the faithful prayed for their pastor's transplant.

They also gave thanks to special visitors: Lieutenant John Branson and his family.

"He was on the other side of the world. I'm here in South Georgia. He come and give me a kidney and he is a white guy. And he didn't have no reservations," Roberts said.

On why he made such a strikingly generous offer, Branson said, "It was just the ability to do something really nice for someone. I mean I've been a policeman for 27 years and my first offer is to help and he caught me on a real good day."

"It's like divine intervention. He's my brother I didn't have," Roberts said.

"Brother from another mother," Branson said, laughing.

Each of their surgeries will last about two and a half hours and Dr. Croome says it all looks promising.

Assuming all goes well, the two men and their families are planning to take a cruise together this summer.