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Christmas brings gift of life for Blountville's Cheyenne Houser

Suzi McKee • Dec 16, 2019 at 10:48 AM

Blanchard, Oklahoma, and Blountville, Tennessee, are 980 miles apart. But in the hearts of two families this Christmas, the distance is a minor factor in their journey. For Cheyenne Houser, 19, and Sierra Warfe, 23, a bond is developing that will forever connect them: a gift of life.

Steve and Sheila Houser once showed horses with Denise Warfe and her family, and they were the best of friends. They shared their love of horses and spent a great deal of time getting the two families together. Cheyenne was 2; Sierra was 6. But then the Warfes moved to Blanchard, Oklahoma, and the families lost touch until earlier this year.

This reconnection of an old friendship has meant the world to both families.

When Cheyenne was 7, she was diagnosed with Childhood Nephrotic Syndrome which means in common terms that the kidneys are not filtering body waste properly. “They told us that Cheyenne would probably outgrow this when she became a teenager, which is the norm,” Sheila said. “No one told us that the disease could change quickly and impact her quality of life enormously.”

The disease changed into Focal Segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) in which scar tissue develops on the parts of the kidneys that filter waste from the blood. FSGS is a serious condition that can lead to kidney failure, for which the only treatment options are dialysis or kidney transplant. In February of 2018, Cheyenne’s kidney checkup was normal. By May of 2018, she was in kidney failure and, by November 2018, Cheyenne had to go on dialysis. For 8 to 10 hours each day, seven days a week, Cheyenne endured peritoneal dialysis which she could do at her home in Blountville.

Thus began Cheyenne’s quest to find a kidney that could save her life.

“We were put immediately on The National Kidney Donor List,” explained Sheila, “and we visited three regional facilities to improve her chances of finding a matching donor.” The family’s first choice was University of North Carolina, followed by University of Tennessee and then University of Virginia at Charlottesville.

“The average wait time for a kidney transplant is from 4 to 7 years,” Cheyenne said, “and each facility has different requirements that donors must meet.”

Meanwhile in Blanchard, Oklahoma, Denise Warfe had been contacted by a mutual friend of the Houser’s, Elisa Dye, who told her of Cheyenne’s journey to find a kidney donor. “That night when Denise told her family about Cheyenne, Sierra remembered Cheyenne as ‘that little blonde girl who showed horses’ and immediately stated she would give her a kidney,” Sheila said with tears in her eyes.

“I truly believe that God brought Sierra and her family into our lives 17 years ago because He knew that one day Cheyenne would need a kidney,” Sheila continued.

With a lot of prayer, all the testing began. By September 2019 the Housers learned that Sierra was a match and by October she qualified as a donor for Cheyenne. Sierra was given three dates from which to choose to schedule the surgery at UNC Chapel Hill and Dec. 17, 2019, was chosen. This worked perfectly for the Housers and so the journey continued.

Both families traveled to Chapel Hill for pre-testing in early December and they will again meet for the surgery which will take from 4 to 6 hours on Tuesday. The girls will be given surgical suites side-by-side so that Sierra’s kidney can be placed directly above Cheyenne’s kidneys as quickly as possible.

“With a live donor, the kidney will begin working immediately,” Sheila explained, “and for checkups and follow-ups we will have to stay in Chapel Hill for about 5 weeks.”

There is a hospitality house that patients and their families can use if there is availability; otherwise, they will have to stay in a hotel.

Cheyenne, who is the Virginia State Barrel Racing Champion as well at the National Barrel Racing Champion, wants to be a Juvenile Probation Officer with her Criminal Justice studies from Northeast State. “I’ve always enjoyed helping people and my dream is to help those who have lost their way get their lives back on track.”

And faith springs eternal in this very impressive young lady.

With a big smile and a glowing face, she proudly tells you “I’m getting a kidney for Christmas this year!”