On Pfeiffer Day, Roommates Mark 6-Year Anniversary of Transplant!
When Todd Gambill ’89, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Lander University, greets freshmen each fall, he suggests they pay careful attention to the people they meet.
“I tell them to look around because at least one of the people in their sight line will be in their wedding one day,” he said. “I know because one of my children is named for someone who lived down the hall at Pfeiffer – a guy who was in my wedding and, more than 25 years later, donated a kidney when I needed one.
When Gambill, from western North Carolina, arrived at Pfeiffer as a transfer from N.C. State University and met Philadelphia native Josh Embree ’91, they didn’t seem to have much in common. It wasn’t long, though, before they discovered that Gambill’s extroverted personality was a good match for Embree’s introverted nature. The next year, they became roommates and best friends.
“I brought him down to earth sometimes, but Todd gets credit for making sure I was awake every morning,” said Embree, who works as Supervisor of Operational Accounting for Project Management Institute.
Born with just one kidney, part of which was removed due to childhood cancer, Gambill knew he’d eventually need a transplant. In 2016, with his kidney functioning at eight percent of capacity, his name was entered on the National Kidney Registry. His friends and family were able to be tested for compatibility.
Embree didn’t hesitate. His friendship with Gambill had remained strong over the years as the two completed advanced degrees, pursued careers in different states, and started families. When he learned he was a match, a process that requires many steps over several months, Embree decided to keep the news secret.
“I thought Todd might insist that I keep my kidney,” he said. “But I consider it a blessing that I was able to help him.”
With the transplant scheduled, Embree and his wife, Lovell, traveled to Indiana where Gambill lived at the time. Shortly before the surgeries were to begin, the Embrees revealed to Todd and Jeanie Gambill the donor’s true identity.
“I’d had an inkling it might be Josh, even though the logistics did not make sense,” said Gambill. “What do you say to someone who gives you the opportunity to meet your grandchildren?”
Later that day - March 23, 2016 - after both surgeries were complete, Embree visited Gambill in his hospital room. A few days later, he and his wife headed home to Pennsylvania. In the ensuing months, Gambill recovered completely and lost 50 pounds as he began exercising in ways not possible before receiving a new kidney. On October 11, 2021, he ran in the 125th Boston Marathon with a time of 03:25:13, finishing 4,680th out of 15,380 who finished.
“This story reflects the magic that can happen at a small, liberal arts college like Pfeiffer,” he said. “An environment where people spend a lot of time together – in the classroom, at the cafeteria, playing basketball in the gym – provides a perfect test tube for growing as a person.”
Embree, whose parents, uncle and brother attended Pfeiffer (the late John Embree ’66, Diane Watson Royer ’66, David Embree ’63, and Judson Embree ’93), agrees.
“Todd and I are extremely fortunate to have benefited from Pfeiffer’s nurturing environment where people truly invested in us,” he said.
This original story, published in the Winter 2017 edition of the alumni magazine, has been updated. To learn more about becoming an organ donor, visit www.organdonor.gov. For more information about kidney donation specifically, visit www.kidneyregistry.org.