April has been observed as National Donate Life Month annually since 2003 to raise awareness and encourage Americans to register as organ, eye and tissue donors to help save lives. Donate Life America is recognizing April 5, 2023, as Living Donor Day. Other observances this month include "Blue & Green Spirt Week" — beginning April 8 and ending with National Donate Life Blue & Green Day on April 14 — and National Pediatric Transplant Week (April 23-29). The month includes "Thank Your Health Care Heroes" day on April 12. Organdonor.gov has helpful resources for those considering becoming an organ donor. Minnesotans can sign up to be organ donors through the DMV.
In order to raise awareness and support for organ donorship, Vikings.com is sharing this unique story involving an organ transplant surgeon — and longtime friend of Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah — who went above and beyond to make sure a surgery was successful.
Before joining the ranks in medical scrubs, Dr. Adam Bodzin was a fleet-footed point guard with a quick release.
Just ask Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
Bodzin and Adofo-Mensah were teammates on their high school freshman hoops squad. They became friends in middle school after first meeting through elementary school friends at a basketball birthday party.
They pushed each other through friendly competitions in middle and high school and enjoyed teaming together as freshmen. The friends stayed connected and supportive on their respective journeys at Ivy League schools.
Bodzin headed to Cornell to begin his path toward becoming a doctor, and Adofo-Mensah stayed closer to their New Jersey hometown by enrolling at Princeton and beginning his degree in economics.
They continued to celebrate each other's successes.
Bodzin, now a surgeon who specializes in kidney and liver transplants at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, illustrated quick thinking and commitment to his vocation in November.
A patient was prepped for a liver transplant, but a road closure for a half-marathon halted the transport vehicle that was delivering the organ from New York.
Bodzin ran from the hospital in scrubs and sneakers, weaved his way through half-marathon runners and met the transport vehicle. He covered about half a mile on his way to secure the precious cargo, enclosed in an ice-packed container.
A police officer on the hospital side of the running closure drove Bodzin back to the hospital, where he performed successful surgery.
"The day started around midnight or so with organ offers," Bodzin told Vikings.com. "Accepted a liver with the hopes we were starting before we did. I had anticipated the [traffic] problem because I had trouble getting to work that day but was able to get by because it was early.
"The driver was really upset. He was really trying, doing his best," Bodzin added. "I could sense him giving up, and time was ticking, so we made the decision to head out and run through the marathon and go get it. A nice police officer offered to drive me back because he knew what everyone was dealing with."
Race traffic was "heavy" with runners at the time of Bodzin's dash.
More than 10,000 participated in the half-marathon, with the winner finishing in just 63 minutes and 45 seconds (average pace of 4:51.7 per mile), but Bodzin's darting was the most time sensitive because livers can deteriorate when preserved by ice for more than eight hours. The eight-hour mark was approaching as Bodzin returned and began the surgery.
"People gave me a weird look, I'm sure, but otherwise they let me go, and I was on my way," Bodzin said. "It went as well as I could hope after that."
Adofo-Mensah wasn't surprised when he heard the story.
"We've known each other for a long time, and I've always kind of admired the stuff that he does," Adofo-Mensah said. "We'll sometimes talk about my job, and I'll just be like, 'Dude, you cut [people open]. This is what you do. What I do pales in comparison.'
"I think in one of my opening press conferences somebody asked me about, 'How do I deal with the hard work of this job?' And I kind of laugh because he'll sometimes call me on his way home or to work, and it's like, 'How much have you slept the past two days?'
"[He'll say,] 'Four hours.'
" 'How many operations have you done?' I'll go to work that day and there will never be a 'woe is me' moment when you have people like him in your life," Adofo-Mensah said.
The event jogged memories for Bodzin and Adofo-Mensah from their freshman year and the times before and since.
"We were the same height, and let's just say he's a solid foot taller now. Maybe not, but close," Bodzin said with a laugh.
Their first encounter had been at the basketball-themed birthday party for a mutual friend.
"I was one of 'the guys' in my elementary school, and on the other end of the court was this dude who was pretty good, so I took notice of him, and then we … reconnected in middle school because that's when all the schools come together," Adofo-Mensah said. "We probably took 80 percent of classes together since that day, so I've spent probably more time with him than I've spent with any other human."
When Bodzin broke his ankle, Adofo-Mensah "kind of helped him around" to their classes.
"That was probably the real budding of our friendship. His mom bought me my first CD, Lords of the Underground. I'll never forget that; but no, he's just a special dude. He's somebody that's been in my life for a long time.
"I always joke that I wasn't sure if I did well in school because I cared about school or because I wanted to beat him, so you're lucky to have people like that in your life," Adofo-Mensah said. "My mom used to say, 'Show me your friends, I'll show you your character,' and it's like, you know, we treated every test like the Super Bowl? Not in a too-nerdy way, but we cared, and I don't know if I'm here if I didn't have somebody like that push me in that way in high school when other things are cooler than doing well in school and things like that."
Bodzin recalled: "Our teachers used to enjoy the competition so much they used to announce our grades — just the two of us because it was always one point apart. We were two people away in class rank out of 450. It was pretty intense but fun competition. Then, basketball became a secondary thing because he grew a foot, and I stayed the same. I retired and he came back and played college basketball."
Bodzin and Adofo-Mensah were side-by-side when they initially made the high school team as sophomores only to be simultaneously cut shortly after. The severing that year strengthened their relationship.
"We were sitting right next to each other," Adofo-Mensah. "At one of the lowest moments of my life, he was right there.
"I think I went to your house afterwards, maybe the next day, and we played video games," Adofo-Mensah said to Bodzin before pivoting back during the video interview.
"His parents were always great to me," said Adofo-Mensah, adding the adjective "incredible" to describe them. "He always had good snacks, too, really great snacks that my mom would never let us eat.
"I just remember him helping me get over it and kind of reassuring me that, 'You have value as a human outside of basketball,' and obviously I was fortunate enough to grow as he said," Adofo-Mensah added.
Diverging paths with some parallels
Frog dissection day in their biology class provided an indication that career paths for Bodzin and Adofo-Mensah would diverge, but they made sure the relationship didn't.
"I was next to him, cutting frogs, and I was all grossed out," Adofo-Mensah said without shame.
"That wasn't your thing!" Bodzin laughed.
"That wasn't my thing. He probably knew then, 'Yeah, dude, you're not going to be a doctor,' but [Bodzin's career as a surgeon] still amazes me," Adofo-Mensah said. "Honestly, if I ever got to see him operate one day, it would be — I don't know how I would take that because that's such an amazing thing to me."
Adofo-Mensah said he and Bodzin "immediately became each other's biggest fans" when each departed for college.
"We weren't competing against each other, so, 'How are you doing in school? Are you the best there? Because you reflect me, almost.'
"I'm his biggest fan because obviously we had those battles together, so him doing the great things he's doing in life selfishly probably reflects a little about me and I'm sure vice-versa the same thing," Adofo-Mensah said. "At the end of the day, our jobs are different, but they're not. It's something hard, you have to show up every day, hold yourself to a high standard, work with other people, and it's all the same skill sets."
Bodzin has been able to stay connected as Adofo-Mensah transitioned from his work on Wall Street to launching his career in the NFL with San Francisco in 2013, eventually leading to his hire in January 2022 as Minnesota's GM. Bodzin watched Adofo-Mensah's introductory press conference from wire to wire and frequently shares the video link with others.
"He talks about what he does as not as important, but if you listen to his intro press conference, it's exactly what leadership should be," Bodzin said. "I've taken a lot and learned a ton from those 36 minutes. I've sent it to people for leadership inspiration. I know it's 36 minutes because I say it's 36 minutes worth listening to. It's definitely a life-changer if you're looking for leadership skills.
"That's why he is where he is. It's not for any other reason," Bodzin added. "He did well in finance, he's done well in everything. It's because that's who he is, and I could tell you it comes from his upbringing — his parents' unbelievable values. His parents worked hard, showed him what was right, humbled him, and his humility shows up all the time. I try to keep that, too."
Both can relate to the importance of teamwork to their respective roles.
"Transplanting more than anything is a team sport, as far as medicine goes. It doesn't fly without that," Bodzin said, emphasizing the support system in place for effectiveness in an operating room and the transplant process. "[Adofo-Mensah] said that exactly, 'build it from the ground up, listen to everybody, hear everyone's opinion that's been there for so long,' so seeing him, yes divergent [paths], but I've certainly, there's so many things I've learned from watching this meteoric rise of Kwesi."
Bodzin considers himself "replaceable" because "somebody else can be trained to do the same thing." That's why he places extra attention on the way the operating team works together.
"You have to trust the people in the room. Your success is based on their success," Bodzin said. "That, for me, gets lost a lot in medicine."
"Adam taught me something a while ago," Adofo-Mensah said. "He said everybody gives the doctors the credit, but the nurses are probably the most important people in the room, so that at an early age, before I ever got to a leadership position, it taught me how you want to appreciate everybody in the room, appreciate their impact, even if other people don't necessarily see it, because that kind of opened my eyes.
"It's appreciating what everybody brings to the table," he added. "I think everybody wants to feel validated and contribute a lot to their jobs, and that matters no matter what else happens outside of that, and I think that's something that Adam has always really had."
View photos of new Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah during his introductory press conference with the media on Jan. 27 at the TCO Performance Center.
Bodzin pointed back toward Adofo-Mensah's words in press conferences.
"He always touches on everybody else, and that to me, connects all the dots for my job. If everyone is succeeding, you're succeeding, and if people aren't working well together, chances are you're not succeeding, and the trust goes out the window. All of that is super important," Bodzin said. "Everyone plays a part. Even patients are an important part of the team taking their complex medicine regimens according to plan. It doesn't matter how great your surgery is. It's meaningless very quickly, so it's super important that everyone does their part."
Even if doing so takes going an extra half-mile.