Many lives have been changed by the selfless acts of living organ donors. Since March is National Kidney Month, we thought we’d do our part, and help raise awareness about kidney disease by sharing some of the miracle stories that have happened in Cherokee County.
You may remember Michelle Nichols and Leslie White, sisters who were featured in Everyday Angels in our January issue. Currently, they are raising funds and waiting for donors. Everyday Angels also shared the story of Amber and Brian Miller in our September 2020 issue. The latest update is that Amber met the criteria to donate a kidney to her husband and, as of press time, that surgery was scheduled for Feb. 25. We hope you enjoy reading these amazing stories of need, and how — more often than not — strangers are the ones who stepped up and made the difference. We’ve been encouraged, and hope you will be, too.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, 100,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney transplant. If you’d like to learn more about how you can help, Ashley Haynes (who tells her family’s story on Page 20) recommends the following websites:
Donating without Doubt
What some may call coincidences, I call carefully crafted plans, unbeknownst to those of us walking around in this world. This is the story of one such plan that began more than 20 years ago when, as newlyweds, my husband, Jay, and I began looking for a place to call home that would be convenient to both our places of work. At that time, we were living in Lawrenceville, and I had just gotten a teaching job in Dallas. We set out one weekend looking at homes in Towne Lake, and then drove down Sixes Road to look at a new subdivision we had read about. On the way, we turned around just before where Starbucks now sits, thinking it was too far off the interstate, and went home.
The next weekend, we decided to drive back to Cherokee County to look at BridgeMill. We decided it looked like a wonderful place to raise a family, and found a home. We welcomed our first child, a son, two years after settling in BridgeMill, and a daughter two years after that. When our son was 4, we signed him up to play baseball at Hobgood Park. That was where we first met Trey and Leslie Powell and their children. Mason and Brady attended Sixes Elementary, where they often would be classmates and would play on countless sports teams together, some of which Trey coached. Sophie and Anna also were classmates, and would play basketball together, sometimes as teammates coached by Trey and, later, as opponents when I began coaching basketball. Anna and Sophie also were in the same Girl Scout Troop that I led. Later, when Trey and Leslie made the decision to move Mason and Anna to schools in the zone in which Leslie taught, our physical paths crossed less often. A baseball season here, a basketball game there, but we stayed in touch as many do, through Facebook. And, that is where I followed Trey’s battles and prayed for his recovery.
When Leslie posted that they were looking for a living donor and provided a link to a questionnaire to begin the search, there wasn’t even a thought process. I just clicked the link and filled it out. To my surprise, I was cleared to take the next step and have labs run. Then, step by step, I was approved to move through the process. A Bible verse became my mantra when I began to worry about not being cleared to move to the next step, or became overwhelmed with the process: “Perhaps this is the moment for which you were created” — Esther 4:14. When people questioned why I would put myself through an elective surgery, my answer was that God had created me and if he had created me in a way that I could help someone, then I should do it. This verse perfectly mirrored my thoughts.
Nearly a year after beginning the process, I got the call that I had been approved for donation. It was just surreal. Finally, on Nov. 12, 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, I underwent a left nephrectomy and Trey received the kidney, which I named Althea, which means power to heal. I’m told she was beautiful, and she began working immediately.
It is my fervent prayer that she will give Trey many, many, many more years of a full and joyful life. I would do it again in a heartbeat. In the U.S., 93,000 people are waiting on a kidney, and the average wait for a deceased donor kidney is five to 10 years. The longer a person is on dialysis, while waiting on a transplant, the more the short- and long-term success rates are negatively impacted. A kidney transplant has the potential to double the life expectancy of the recipient. When considering that a healthy person can live with one kidney, and these above statistics, if anyone reading this feels called to be a living donor, I am happy to be a resource and answer any questions.
– By Jeannie Cordaro
Willing to Go the Extra Mile
I have been a Canton resident since 2004. We were drawn to this community as the perfect place to raise our family. We had no idea then how much the community truly would transform our lives. A community is much more than just the land, homes and stores. It is defined by the people who live there. Canton has proved to be a supportive and life-changing location for my family.
It started on a baseball field at Hobgood Park, where my son played. That is where we first met the Cordaro family. Their son, Brady, played on the same team. Through the years, our families found ourselves together through Cherokee Youth Basketball teams, Girl Scout troops at the elementary school, and the same church.
In February 2018, we were sitting in a gym watching our daughter’s team play in the championship for the middle school basketball league. My husband, Trey Powell, started having terrible pains in his leg. We went to a local emergency room, fearing a blood clot. He was diagnosed with cellulitis on the inside of his right foot, and was sent home with an antibiotic.
Over the next week, his infection grew worse. He was admitted to the hospital with sepsis from the infection. They aggressively treated the infection with IV medications. With no prior kidney problems, we found his situation much worse when, after six days of treatment, his kidneys went into Stage V kidney failure, as a result of the medications. This battle with infection would keep him in the hospital until July 4, 2018. He underwent more than 24 surgeries, with five of them being amputations to his right leg. When he came home, on our country’s Independence Day, his life had changed forever.
Living without a limb is life-altering. You have to learn new ways to do things and how to navigate your new normal. Living with two failing kidneys also is life-changing. To survive, Trey needed dialysis three days a week for four hours each time. He got up at 4:10 a.m. to make his 5:25 a.m. dialysis seat time in Roswell. He would be fatigued and nauseated from the dialysis, and he often was hospitalized with complications. Although he had survived the health crisis, he felt he was merely existing and no longer living. That is when the doctors suggested a kidney transplant. While Trey went through the process of being placed on the organ donation list, his doctors suggested he search for a living donor.
In October 2019, we announced on social media our search for a kidney donor. We were hopeful, yet anxious. People in this community rallied around us during his health crisis. Many people provided meals and donations to carry us through the tough times. However, asking for a kidney seemed like an impossible task. Would someone actually be willing to go through the testing, endure the surgery, take the time off work to heal, and actually give an organ to someone? The answer was YES.
Our community friend, whose life had been entwined with ours through activities of our children, reached out to help. Jeannie Cordaro, one of the first to volunteer, was identified as a possible match and endured months of testing to confirm. In September 2020, we were notified that she was a perfect match. On Nov. 12, 2020, at Emory University Hospital, Jeannie had surgery to have a kidney transplant that would change all our lives forever.
Her kidney, which Jeannie named “Althea” (which means “with healing power”), immediately started working. Trey never needed dialysis after surgery. His bloodwork consistently has been stable. He now has energy, and no more nausea. His life truly has been changed by the gift from our friend.
The Powell family is so thankful for Jeannie’s willingness to help. Such a selfless act of kindness is rare to find. She truly has the heart of Christ. She stated on social media that, “Jesus called those who follow him to be his hands and feet and love one another. I try to live my life doing what he has asked. I am blessed to have this opportunity to do that for Trey and his family who I have known for many years.”
There is an Albert Einstein quote on the wall at Emory that says, “Only a life lived for others is worth living.” In a world where so many people are focused on themselves and their family, we were blessed with a friend who gave. Our lives were changed by a friend who was willing to make a difference by considering the needs of others. We were touched by an angel.
– By Leslie Powell
2020: The Year of a Miracle
What will you remember most about the year 2020? Perhaps it will be the coronavirus, toilet paper shortage, maybe even quarantining at home? None of those events come to mind when I think back on 2020. For me, it always will be the year I got to be a front-row participant in a miracle. Have you ever felt a nudge to do something you really didn’t understand?
This miracle began with a moment that seemed so casual and normal; I didn’t realize how God was about to use me for his plan. That nudge happened last summer at the end of a Zumba class. My mother had just donated a kidney to a stranger after feeling led to do so after watching a news story. At the end of Zumba, my friend Alyson asked how my mom was recovering. I didn’t realize at the time what a monumental moment that was for us. Alyson talked about her nieces’ rare condition (Lily and Maggie Haynes) and the reality that the girls potentially would need multiple kidney transplants throughout their lives due to their condition. No one else in the family had the correct blood type to donate, so they’d have to resort to the organ swap program, where multiple donors cross-match with multiple recipients. I found myself asking what Maggie’s blood type was: O-positive. Without thinking much about it, I told Alyson to keep me in mind when the time came. I had the same blood type and would be happy to go through the screening for her.
The time for a kidney donation came quicker than they anticipated. Maggie needed a new kidney right away, at age 14. I went through the screenings and multiple tests. My team of doctors would be at Emory University Hospital and Maggie’s team would be at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. When the kidney was removed, my team would walk the organ across the street, through an underground tunnel, to Maggie in the children’s hospital.
This journey started as a way for me to help a mother who needed something for her daughter that I happened to be a match for, but I know it was part of a much bigger plan. Getting to know Maggie and her family, and being a part of the living donor program, has changed my life.
Maggie and I were covered with prayers on the morning of Oct. 2. Because of COVID-19 restrictions at Emory, my husband had to drop me off at the emergency room door and pick me up two days later, when I was released. I remember everything about that morning. I never felt alone, and I was not scared. In fact, when the anesthesiologist wheeled me to the operating room, I was overcome with the feeling that God was there. He was with me and I was not afraid. I never had any doubts about the surgery. I now knew that conversation during the summer was not a mistake; it was part of God’s incredible plan.
So, now, if you were to ask me if I believe in miracles, I’d have to just smile and tell you, absolutely!
– By Joy Silk
Meet JoJo: A Special Gift That Changed a Life
On Oct. 2, 2020, Maggie Jo Haynes, my daughter, received the best possible gift: a new kidney. And, this gift came from a person she did not know just one week earlier.
Maggie Jo was diagnosed with cystinosis when she was a year old. Cystinosis is a rare disorder that causes an accumulation of the amino acid cystine within cells, forming crystals that can build up and damage the cells. Maggie’s sister, Lily Grace, had been dealing with health issues since she was an infant and, at age 4, she finally was diagnosed correctly. Since it is genetic, Maggie was tested. We were very surprised to learn she also had cystinosis. Maggie Jo just didn’t seem sick. In fact, she had a very atypical experience with cystinosis as a child. She took all of her medications and went to the scheduled doctor visits and labs, but she had few of the complications and issues that most children have. She rarely had nausea or low energy. In fact, Maggie played softball for many years, and is an avid hunter. She was active and otherwise healthy.
When Maggie was 10, she had a complication that is believed to be related to cystinosis. She needed surgery to correct her being “knock-kneed.” Within two years, Maggie Jo had three surgeries to correct her legs, which took a toll on her energy level. About a year later, when she was 13, she was admitted to the children’s hospital for dehydration. This was the first time that her labs showed an abnormality (other than the cystine level that helped her diagnosis). After this hospitalization, Maggie’s kidney function declined quickly for about a year. In February, 2020, Maggie’s doctor told her she needed an initial evaluation for a kidney transplant. The appointment was set for late March.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 changed our plans. Her appointment was postponed until May. Meanwhile, her lab reports showed a rapid decline in kidney function. We became very concerned.
At Maggie’s initial evaluation, we discussed possible living donors, and the process of getting on the deceased donor list. I had given one of my kidneys to Maggie’s sister in 2011. We had no family members who were a blood match. My sister, Alyson, was willing to do a paired donor match, but that was our only family possibility. While Maggie was at her evaluation, some of her levels were “off,” and she was admitted to get those corrected. While we sat in her hospital room that night, I posted on Facebook about Maggie’s situation, and information about being a living donor. Two minutes after I posted, I received a message from a friend of my sister, asking for contact information. Over the next few weeks, we heard from 10-15 people interested in seeing if they qualified to be her kidney donor. We were amazed.
I will say that we have experienced the kindness and generosity of our community in the past. When Lily received her kidney transplant, our community rallied around us, and we definitely felt the love. But, the thought of all of these people willing to undergo surgery, and give up an organ for our sweet girl, was humbling, to say the least.
Because of privacy laws, we weren’t allowed to get updates on the potential donors. But, my sister’s friend kept us informed and, in mid-August, we heard that she was in the final stages of the process. In late August, we were told that Maggie Jo would need to begin dialysis unless a transplant was scheduled in the next few weeks. We weren’t sure if the timing was going to work out. But, finally, in mid-September, a date was set. Maggie would be getting her new kidney on Oct. 2!
Maggie wanted to meet the angel who was willing to give this incredible gift. On Sept. 27, Maggie met Joy. Yes, Joy. The person giving the gift of life has the most appropriate name possible. Joy has two children; her daughter is the same age as Maggie. On the day we met, gifts were exchanged and pictures taken. One week later, one of Joy’s kidneys was giving Maggie a second chance. And, Maggie named her new kidney JoJo, for Joy + Maggie Jo. JoJo is working hard and allowing Maggie to have the energy that a 14-year-old should have.
We hope that Maggie and Joy’s story is an inspiration to others who might consider being a living donor. It certainly has changed our lives.
– By Ashley Haynes