Two strangers become close friends after kidney donation

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Hayhurst

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Hayhurst

Amanda Hayhurst had no intention of being a kidney donor until she read Vonchelle Knight’s story. While at her oldest son’s tae kwon do class, Hayhurst spotted a sign that read “please help us save our mom.” Hayhurst looked at the photo of the mother and daughters, read about the single mom’s nine-year wait on the donor list, and made a decision.

“I was raised by a single mother, so I immediately empathized,” said Hayhurst, 36. “I realized that if they are asking strangers for help, they’ve already exhausted all their family and friends, and she’d been on the donor list for so long, I knew the need was dire. I also saw that she needed an O-positive donor. I’m O-positive.”

Hayhurst envisioned herself being a match for Knight and knew she had to call the number listed for information. After discussing it with her husband, Marcus, Hayhurst made the call and began a series of tests to see if she could be Knight’s match.

“I didn’t reach out to the family to let them know I was being screened,” said Hayhurst. “I didn’t want to get them excited in case it didn’t work out.”

After three-and-a-half months of blood and urine tests, a full body scan, and speaking with a patient advocate to be sure Hayhurst was a good candidate, she received a call confirming that she was a match for Knight.

“The best part of it all was telling her,” said Hayhurst. “I knew her daughter Courtney worked at the tae kwon do studio, so I met with her first. It was so special. She collapsed in the office, so overcome with emotion. Then we, along with my mom, went to Vonchelle’s house.”

When Vonchelle walked through the door of her Norcross home after work that day, Hayhurst, a perfect stranger, was sitting in her living room with Courtney.

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Hayhurst

Credit: Courtesy of Amanda Hayhurst

“Courtney started to introduce me and Vonchelle finished the sentence,” remembers Hayhurst. “She said, ‘You’re my donor.’ We all hugged and cried the happiest tears.”

Though Knight’s fight with polycystic kidney disease and her wait for a new kidney had been long, her faith carried her through, and she trusted a donor would come.

“God was preparing me for Amanda,” said Knight. “I went on the active donor list in 2010. My kidney function dropped as low as 3%, I was severely anemic, and I had to go on full-time dialysis. My family and friends were disqualified as donors and that was so discouraging. I had 13 surgeries during my wait. My body needed to get to a healthier place for a transplant. 2018 was the first year I didn’t have an operation. I felt like God was telling me to do certain things and I tried to be obedient. It was just two weeks before Christmas and I woke in the night to write a Christmas prayer, a message of gratitude for my donor. I knew they were coming. But to see her in my home beside my daughter, what a blessing. It was my Christmas miracle.”

Hayhurst, Knight and their families spent Christmas together that year. Just weeks later, Jan. 25, 2019, the transplant was performed.

Knight’s health began to improve after the operation and the transplant appeared to be a success, but weeks later, her body began to reject the kidney. Doctors decided she should go back on the active donor list and Knight received a second kidney, this time from a deceased donor, in October 2020.

“Now my kidneys are both functioning just fine,” said Knight. “Amanda’s my right side, my strong side. And, whether it stops working or not, it’ll always be there. That’s how I feel about Amanda. We will always be there for each other. She is my forever sister.”

The women and their families get together every year to celebrate what they refer to as their kidney anniversary. This year they celebrated at Firebird Woodfire Grill in Peachtree Corners.

“After dinner we walked across the street to get ice cream,” said Hayhurst. “Chelle and Reese, my youngest, held hands. I call her Chelle, she calls me Puddin’ – we have become so close. I’m glad the operation wasn’t the end of it for us. It was just the beginning.”