On Friday Cherokee High School student Maggie Haynes, 14, will be receiving a kidney transplant. The organ is being donated by school system employee Joy Silk.
The process of connecting the need with the donation began in a post-workout conversation late last year between Silk and her friend Alyson Counts, a teacher at Indian Knoll Elementary School, who is Maggie’s aunt.
At the time Silk’s mother, a retired teacher, was recovering from being a donor for kidney transplant surgery when Counts asked how she was doing.
“We were just chatting about my mother and how her recovery was going,” said Silk, who is the Cherokee County School District’s supervisor of digital learning. “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.”
It was at another Zumba workout class a few months later that Counts told Silk the need for Maggie’s transplant had changed from two years out to being needed much sooner.
Silk immediately submitted her name to the living donor program at Emory Healthcare, which partners with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for transplants, and Emory doctors determined that she 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 High School. “I am honored that God has allowed for me to be able to help this precious family.”
Ashley and Jerry Haynes, Maggie’s parents, are going through a second transplant surgery. Their older daughter Lily also had to have a kidney transplant in which Ashley Haynes was the donor.
The Haynes sisters were born with 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. After Lily was diagnosed at age 4, doctors recommended that then-baby Maggie be tested, too.
“When we got the call telling us that Maggie had it, too, we were devastated,” said Ashley Haynes, who teaches at Ball Ground Elementary School STEM Academy. “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 8 she received a kidney from her mother. Nine years later both Lily and her kidney are doing well. Now it’s Maggie’s turn to undergo a kidney transplant, and she and Silk are preparing for the surgery.
“We are so grateful for Joy’s determination to give such an amazing gift,” said Ashley Haynes. “She heard about Maggie’s need for a new kidney and she has never wavered in her desire to donate.”
Superintendent of Schools Brian V. Hightower said he wasn’t surprised when he heard about Silk’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. “It’s very heartwarming to see our CCSD family come together and support one another.”
Silk is a past Cherokee school system Teacher of the Year and, last year, Hightower named her as the recipient of one of his Game Changer Awards, which are presented to four individuals each year for their role in instructional excellence.
For information about how you can help support Maggie and her family, visit her Children’s Organ Transplant Association page at https://cota.org/campaigns/COTAforLilyH