‘I just felt loved:’ Woman says aunt saved her life with kidney donation

News4JAX anchor/reporter Amanda DeVoe has personal connection to woman who says aunt saved her life through organ donation

There are staggering numbers of people in America who need an organ transplant. News4JAX's Amanda DeVoe joins us to discuss the story of a woman who says her aunt saved her life through a kidney donation.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As National Donate Life Month comes to an end, we want to share the staggering numbers of people in need of an organ transplant.

Every 10 minutes, another person is added to the national transplant waiting list — and 82% of patients waiting are in need of a kidney, according to Donate Life America.

News4JAX anchor/reporter Amanda DeVoe has a personal connection to a woman who said her aunt saved her life through a kidney donation.

Denise Dean and Teresa Haywood are her cousins.

Denise Dean and Teresa Haywood are cousins of News4JAX anchor/reporter Amanda DeVoe and shared their story of how a living kidney donation saved Denise's life. (WJXT)

For many years, Amanda’s family has known the story of Denise’s journey with lupus. She has struggled with the autoimmune disease for more than two decades.

“It can affect people in different ways. It can attack different organs or different parts of your body. In my case, it was my kidneys that ultimately became damaged,” she said.

When the disease caused the former teacher’s kidney to fail to the point that she was put on dialysis in 2019, Denise’s aunt, Teresa, knew immediately that she would be the one to donate.

Denise was placed on the transplant list shortly after her dialysis began. She said the dialysis was not only time-consuming but stressful.

“You’re either going to a center several days a week and sitting on a machine for hours at a time or you’re doing it at home for hours and hours overnight,” Denise said.

After more than a year on dialysis, Denise still held out hope that someone would be a match. And she didn’t have to look far to find a donor.

Her aunt, Teresa Haywood, said being a living donor for her niece was a no-brainer.

“Without a question because of the bond that we have,” Teresa said. “Denise was born on my birthday and we’ve always had a good relationship since she was born. I just had the faith and the feeling that I was going to be the one.”

As a woman of strong faith, Teresa got a tattoo in honor of her niece the moment she was placed on the transplant list.

“Faith, hope and love. I had faith that I would be a match for her. Hope that everything would go well during the surgeries and love for the immense love that I have for my niece,” she said.

After numerous tests and a close call that Teresa wouldn’t be a match, the transplant became a reality in April 2021, the last day of National Donate Life Month.

“People were telling me right away after the transplant that my skin looked better, that I had more energy. I was able to just have more life exuding from me,” Denise said.

Just shy of a year after the transplant, Denise remains eternally grateful.

“I just felt loved,” she said. “I mean, it’s not something that people have to do. To know that someone would go through a major surgery. I’m sorry. There are no words to describe it. It’s literally saving my life.”

They hope it inspires others to donate, too.

“It’s a lot of great people on the waiting list that can benefit, that can live because of their donation, and I would encourage anyone that can to donate,” Teresa said.

The women want to stress that donors can still live a normal life after giving an organ.

For more information on how to become an organ donor, click here.