Memphis woman donates life-saving kidney to teacher, single mom

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- For someone waiting on a life-saving kidney transplant, finding a match before it's too late is no guarantee.

But for one Mid-South teacher and single mom, help came just in time, and from a place she least expected.

After being diagnosed with stage 4 chronic kidney disease, Erica Walker wasn’t sure she’d live to see her daughter start kindergarten.

"I was just getting more and more tired and every day was getting harder," she said. "And it was harder to look at my daughter and wonder, was I going to be there?"

A type 2 diabetic, Walker said her problems began while she was pregnant. Her kidney started shutting down and her condition rapidly deteriorated.

"She was not doing well at all," said Heartsong Church's director of children's ministries, Jenny Williams.

It was at Heartsong Church where Walker first told the congregation about her life-threatening condition, asking simply for prayers. What she never could have imagined was that months later, one of those people listening would end up saving her life.

"She was saying how her kidney was getting worse and that she was hoping to be able to get onto a transplant list or they were going to have to start dialysis," Williams said.

After several unsuccessful attempts at finding a match, Williams – a mother of five herself – secretly got tested.

"I just felt called to do it," she said. "I felt it was something that God wanted me to do. Why else would we have met each other? The thought of Karli not having a mom – I couldn’t do nothing when I knew there was something that I could do."

Sure enough, she was a match.

And the news couldn't have come at a better time. Walker's condition had worsened to stage 5 kidney failure.

"My entire world just stopped," Walker said. "I couldn’t believe that we had finally found a match."

After about six months of tests, Walker finally got her new kidney from Williams Tuesday.

"She’s just my hero," she said. "Every day I look at my daughter now, I know I’m going to be there because of what Jenny did. And I’ll never be able to thank her enough."

Both women are recovering at home, and it’s their hope that their story will encourage others to become organ donors, too.

"Jenny has changed my daughter’s life, she has changed my mother’s life, my niece and nephews, my brother, my grandmother," Walker said. "She’s changed my entire family’s life by one decision that she made."

More than 2,800 Tennesseans are on waiting lists for organ transplants, but only about 300 people in the state are donors, according to Tennessee Donor Services.

To find out how to become a donor, visit the United Network for Organ Sharing at https://www.unos.org.