Ray Herrmann affectionately refers to his sons as "The Kidney Brothers."
It's the kind of lighthearted family joke that can only come from the most stressful of situations.
Ty Herrmann, the youngest of three brothers, needed a kidney transplant late last year.
"We knew at some point in his life he was going to need one," Kurt Herrmann, the oldest brother who now lives in Tampa, Florida, said. "We didn't know it would be this early."
The 37-year-old Ty was born with one kidney, something the family didn't learn he was a sophomore at McCallie more than 20 years ago. Doctors recently told the family it might be another 10 years before he'd need to seriously consider the possibility. But his health worsened.
He needed help right away.
The father and his three sons — Ty, Rick and Kurt — went through a series of tests to see if they could help.
Ray was hoping it could be him. The notion of two of his sons having to live with one kidney each wasn't something he wanted to accept. He figured it would be best if he did it himself.
IF YOU GO
What: 7 Bridges Marathon, 4 Bridges Half Marathon and 2 bridges 5K
Where: Starts and ends in Coolidge Park, next to the Rhino Sculpture on Tremont Street near the Chattanooga Theatre.
When: Sunday at 7 a.m.
Rick, the middle son, had been ruled out already, so it would be up to the father or his firstborn if the youngest was going to find a family donor — which often leads to fewer complications and a better chance at full recovery.
But Ray was also ruled out. At 76, there were too many risks.
"I was devastated," he said.
Kurt's 16-year-old daughter, Kayla, had a feeling it would be her dad since she learned her uncle needed a new kidney. Ultimately, it was. Kurt, now 47, talked with doctors and learned he would be an ideal match.
"Most people who donate do the same things after [the surgery] that they did before," Kurt said. "Once I understood I'd have no limitations, it took a lot of the fear of donating out of the equation. My brother needed it, so there was really no question. I was glad to be able to do it for him."
The two had the transplant Nov. 27 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
It was challenging and painful, according to the family, who later became thankful Ray had not undergone the procedure.
"[Kurt] was in a lot of pain. His mom [Susan Lutkus] and I tried to feed him, but he could only eat a few bites," the boys' stepmom, Deborah Herrmann, said. "We realized it would have been much harder on Ray. He's not just Ty's hero but all of our hero, and he's been an inspiration to me."
During his six-week recovery, Kurt had an idea to challenge himself and expedite his recovery: He wanted to start running again.
He had been an endurance athlete in his younger years, but it had been eight years since he ran long distances competitively. Between 2003 and 2011, he ran nine marathons but ultimately burned out, he said.
"There's no substitute for running to get yourself into shape quickly, at least for me," Kurt said.
He started running a mile at a time.
"And then I got this crazy idea to do my 10th marathon with one kidney," he said.
So he started increasing the distance and took nearly a year to train. He will compete in Sunday's 7 Bridges Marathon in Chattanooga.
At 47, the training hasn't gone as smoothly as it used to, he said, but that's largely been a factor of age, he believes. He's going to be slower, but that's something he's accepted, he said. It's not about speed, at least not yet. His goal is to finish.
"I'm older, I'm slower, but I enjoy running much more now," he said.
7 Bridges mapView
Multiple full and partial closures will take place with the annual Seven Bridges Marathon both inside downtown Chattanooga and along Riverfront Parkway/Amnicola Highway from 4 a.m. until 3 p.m. These full and partial closures will be immediately opened when the last runner passes each location. Full and partial closures include: Tremont Street at Coolidge Park; Frazier Avenue westbound; River Street; Market Street Bridge, West Aquarium, Chestnut Street, northbound right lane Highway 27 over Olgiati Bridge; Manufacturers Road; Riverfront Parkway; Barton Avenue; Veterans Bridge; Battery Place; Amnicola Highway eastbound right lane; Riverside Drive eastbound right lane; River Terminal Road; Dupont Parkway northbound right lane, North Access Road; Highway 153 southbound right lane.
Detours will be posted for all roads affected by a full closure. Drivers are encouraged to use extra caution when around run participants. Please obey all instructions from local law enforcement directing traffic.
Source: Justin Strickland, Chattanooga Department of Transportation
CORRECTION: The headline of this story was corrected at 6:13 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, to state that the runner gave an organ. It had previously stated he had been the recipient.