A Cherokee County School District employee on Friday will donate a kidney to a Cherokee High School student who she had never met until learning of her urgent need.
This story of inspiring kindness started after a Zumba class late last year.
Joy Silk, who serves as CCSD’s Supervisor of Digital Learning, stuck around after the class to chat with Alyson Counts, a friend who teaches at Indian Knoll ES. Alyson asked about Joy’s mother, a retired CCSD teacher who recently donated her kidney to someone in need – someone who was a stranger to her before the donation.
“We were just chatting about my mother and how her recovery was going,” Joy said. “Alyson mentioned that her niece, Maggie, would be needing a kidney transplant in a couple of years, but that no one in their family was a match. I casually asked what her blood type was, and, once Alyson told me, I told her that was also my blood type, and to keep me in mind when the time came – I would be happy to see if I was a match.”
A few months later, after another Zumba class, Alyson told Joy that Maggie needed a kidney transplant sooner than expected. She asked Joy if she had been serious when she offered to be tested as a transplant candidate.
“Absolutely,” Joy said.
Joy immediately submitted her name to the living donor program at Emory Healthcare, which partners with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for transplants. Joy, along with several other candidates, was thoroughly screened … and Emory doctors determined that Joy was a perfect match for Maggie.
“The whole process has been the most humbling, spiritual experience of my life,” said Joy, who is married and has two children who attend Creekview HS. “I have gone through several tests and screenings and have been a perfect match each step of the way. I am honored that God has allowed for me to be able to help this precious family. I have been blessed with healthy children and cannot imagine what it must be like for Maggie’s parents, to not only face this with Maggie, but to also experience the same heartache of such an awful disease and a kidney transplant with Maggie’s older sister, Lily.”
Lily was born in 2003 to proud parents Ashley, who teaches at Ball Ground ES STEM Academy, and Jerry Haynes. By Lily’s first birthday, her parents grew concerned about her growth and development. They visited specialists, Lily underwent testing, and they struggled to get answers. When Lily was three years old, her baby sister, Maggie, was born. By the time Lily turned four, the family finally had a diagnosis: cystinosis, a rare genetic disease caused by a buildup of cystine that form crystals in organs and tissues including the kidneys, eyes, muscles, pancreas and brain. The doctor recommended that baby Maggie also be tested.
“When we got the call telling us that Maggie had it, too, we were devastated,” said Ashley. “We went through three weeks of sheer frustration, trying to get into the routine of mixing and giving medication (that tasted horrible) around the clock. But our family worked together and, within a few months, we had the hang of it. Bit by bit, things got easier.”
While the medication slows the damage, it doesn’t stop it. When Lily was eight, she underwent transplant surgery to receive a kidney from Ashley. It has now been nine years, and both Lily and her kidney are doing well. Now it’s Maggie’s turn to undergo a kidney transplant, and she and Joy are preparing for the surgery.
“We are so grateful for Joy’s determination to give such an amazing gift,” Ashley said. “She heard about Maggie’s need for a new kidney and she has never wavered in her desire to donate. It would be amazing if Joy had seen firsthand how Maggie’s quality of life has diminished with the decline in her kidney function: how tired she is, how she is unable to do her regular activities with her peers, and how she has a headache and nausea most days. Yet, Joy hasn’t seen those things firsthand, but she made the decision anyway. I would love for everyone to know that giving a kidney (to a person in need of one) is one of the most selfless gifts a person can give. It is the act of a hero. In our eyes, Joy will always be a hero for giving Maggie the opportunity to gain her quality of life back.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower said he wasn’t surprised to hear about Joy’s plans to help Maggie.
“I know the attitude, determination, positivity and servant’s heart that Joy brings to the workplace and that she gives the same of herself in everything she does,” he said.
Joy is a past CCSD Teacher of the Year and, last year, Dr. Hightower named her as the recipient of one of his top annual honors – the Game Changer Awards, which are presented to four individuals each year for their role in instructional excellence. She earned the honor for the Instructional Support category, which recognizes someone who makes a positive impact in instructional support for students, parents, and their fellow professionals and who is both a professional educator and an inspiration to others.
“It’s very heartwarming to see our CCSD family come together and support one another,” Dr. Hightower said, noting that Joy and her parents are known for their great care for their community. “My thoughts and prayers are with Maggie and Joy, and I wish them the best in their recovery. We all can’t wait to see Joy back in the office and Maggie back at Cherokee with her friends, enjoying everything that a 14-year-old should enjoy!”
For information about how you can help support Maggie and her family, please visit her COTA (Children’s Organ Transplant Association) page here.