Cutting it close with COVID
The friendliest barber in town is also one of the nicest transplant patients you’ll ever meet. He’s Robert A. Nabors, owner of Nabors Cuts in Maplewood. His journey with end-stage renal disease and going through two kidney transplant surgeries may have made anyone else discouraged, but he remains grateful – and his positive attitude is infectious, even as he recovers from a COVID-19 infection.
“I try to stay positive on my health outlook because I know what the other side looks like,” he said.
As part of his post-transplant care, Nabors takes anti-rejection medication daily and has labs drawn monthly at Hennepin Healthcare’s Kidney Transplant Center to monitor his kidney function.
When COVID-19 hit Minnesota earlier this year and forced his business to temporarily close, Nabors’ positive outlook didn’t fade. He cares deeply for his customers and understood the importance of reducing the risk of COVID. But it also wasn’t his first experience with quarantine. After both transplant surgeries, he had to quarantine to avoid the risk of any kind of infection that could compromise his immune system.
“When I was on dialysis the first time, I had a conversation with the nephrologist about the pros and cons of a kidney transplant,” he explains. “The pros were better quality of life. Period. But one of the cons was having a post-op recovery time of 3 months without working and with minimal human interaction. And that was the hard part. So yes, I’ve experienced quarantine before. It’s not fun, but it’s essential. And it will pass.”
He has always made his health a priority, and in December of last year after a 5-year personal challenge of only doing calisthenics, he decided to incorporate weightlifting into his fitness routine. These workouts helped him stay focused while his business was closed.
Nabors says he tries not to stress out over things that are out of his control, and his calm, welcoming presence confirms this virtue. Maybe a few baptisms by fire helped prepare him for this mindset, including when his career as a barber was launched in 1986 when he was just 11 years old.
“My dad used to cut my hair so one day I asked him for a style that was popular at the time. He asked me, ‘Do you like the way I cut your hair?’ and I said, ‘No.’ So he said, ‘cut it yourself.’”
His father not only generously offered him life-changing advice back then, but he also gave him a life-saving kidney in 2012 after a previous kidney transplanted from his brother in 2002 began to fail. His dad’s kidney – and sage advice serve him well to this day.
“The gift of a kidney is the closest thing to an act of God,” he describes. “A donor giving the recipient a better quality of life is equivalent to God giving you a second chance at life.” Nabors encourages anyone considering kidney donation to think about what a big deal it is to the person who needs it.
Over the years he’s been inspired by the support that’s been shown to him and it’s motivated him to pay it forward and bless others in many ways. One of them is by cutting at the Ramsey County Jail, Juvenile Detention Center, and Boys Totem Town before they closed giving haircuts to inmates.
“A haircut makes a person feel better as far as confidence, self-esteem, and mental stability,” he shares. “Imagine being behind bars and that’s the only time you get to feel like that. That’s why I go inside to try and change the way the inmates feel about themselves and the way others perceive them.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has tapered volunteering activities including those at the jail, Nabors remains busy teaching his trade to others and recently was involved in the making of the movie, Black in Minneapolis. (In fact, he’s featured in the official trailer.) For the past 3 years, he’s also hosted “Thanks 4 Giving” where he brings together other stylists to offer free cuts, styles, and manicures to the community. Unfortunately, COVID has put those efforts on hold this year, too, and his own experience with the virus kept him out of commission for a month.
“I felt like I was falling back down into a dark hole like I felt when I was on dialysis, but I knew I had much more to live for. A friend of mine said that maybe what my body has been through – including the fitness and lifestyle changes I’ve made in the past few years – helped prepare me for surviving the virus. I guess I can add it to my list of blessings.”