‘I was so scared of my daddy dying. I hated watching him throw up and not feel well. I knew in my heart I could help him. I just knew it!’: 10-year-old girl starts ‘secret’ plan to save father’s life 

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“My name is Savannah and I am ten years old.

Courtesy of Savannah L.

My daddy was born with a genetic disease called polycystic kidney disease. My five siblings and I have a 50/50 chance of inheriting this disease. My dad works in dialysis as a dialysis biomed fixing the machines and my mom is a dialysis nurse (that’s how my parents met).

Courtesy of Savannah L.
Courtesy of Savannah L.

My dad started to get sick and was told he had to start dialysis. His kidneys had failed and without working kidneys or dialysis, he would die. I was so scared of my daddy dying. I hated watching him throw up and not feel well.

Courtesy of Savannah L.
Courtesy of Savannah L.

One day, my mom had the idea of starting a Facebook page for my dad without him knowing (because he’s a quiet guy and didn’t want people to know he needed a kidney). The page was called ‘Kidney for Jay Give the Gift of life Today’. I wanted to help my mom too but I didn’t know how, so I asked her if she could help me start a Facebook page for my daddy. We called it ‘Savannah’s Secret Gift of Life Search’ because it was a secret from my dad at the time.

I made videos and posts to try and advertise my dad’s need of a kidney. I got responses and I was so happy! We had 23 people test between the 2 transplant centers he was registered at but they were all rejected due to various reasons.

The Facebook world had kept it a secret because my daddy does not like social media and is not on Facebook. Then, one day my dad walked onto the subway with my mom and a worker recognized him from the Facebook posts and had questioned his need for a kidney (my dad was super embarrassed).

He questioned my mom on what we had done and that’s when the secret was up. My daddy never really liked the idea of advertising himself on Facebook. In fact, there was a time when he told my mom that he would quit dialysis and die if we didn’t stop posting his needs online. But he was just upset at first and my mom called his bluff. Soon after, we continued our search, eager to NEVER GIVE UP.

We were on the news a couple times and even a local magazine did an article on our family. We had a billboard in Philadelphia that my Uncle helped with. We had a car sticker and the multiple Facebook videos and posts. My siblings helped too. I was determined to help my daddy. Watching him sit in the dialysis chair at home 4 days a week and get 2 big needles in his arm made me feel like I needed to help him.

For Halloween, I decided to be a transplant surgeon and hand out buttons and tattoos to the houses I trick or treated at to help spread awareness on organ donation. I was so proud that I was helping to spread the word on my dad and organ donation. I just knew in my heart I can help him… I just knew it!

Courtesy of Savannah L.

It was around Christmas time when my siblings and I went to visit Santa. Most kids asked for toys. When he got to me, I told him, ‘I really want a kidney for my daddy.’ The reaction I got from Santa, I didn’t expect. He cried! I felt so bad that I made Santa cry. He told my mom, ‘God bless you both.’

Courtesy of Savannah L.

Well, Christmas came and went. My daddy didn’t get a new kidney, but we did have a living donor testing and she was close to passing all the testing. She was our hope. My mom said early January we would find out the results on the living donor, but God had other plans.

On the weekend before New Years, we got the shock of our life. I had just got done singing the song, ‘Don’t let me down’ for my Facebook page for my daddy, when my mom received a phone call through Facebook that she IGNORED cause she didn’t know who it was.

The guy was Rob Smitty. He ran a page on Facebook called ‘LivingDonorAwareness’ (and he also donated his kidney in 2004 to save a stranger’s life). My mom had posted my videos on his page. Anyway, he messaged her and asked her, ‘ Could you use a kidney tonight?’ My mom was super skeptical at first. She was going to IGNORE his message. It was me that convinced my mom to call.

He told her that she had 5 minutes to call this doctor in Florida. According to him, there was a kidney being offered to the doctor from a super strong, amazing mother whose 27-year-old son was on life support. Unfortunately, however, the doctor was not a match, so he networked out to Rob Smitty’s page. Rob remembered my videos and contacted my mom. This was the night that all our hardworking efforts paid off. Santa and God must have been waiting till after Christmas to bless our family with my dad’s second chance at life.

My mom called the doctor in Florida. Dr. Stuart Himmelstein. He told my mom that he was offered a kidney that did not match. ‘I am networking out because the amazing mother wants to designate her son’s organs.’ He took my dad’s info down and said he would call us back.

The phone rang. My mom answered it. It was NOT Dr. Stuart, but the amazing mother of the dying boy in the hospital. I watched my mom as she talked to her. The mother asked about my dad and why he needed a kidney. My mother told her as she began to cry on the phone. Cadaver organ donation is a beautiful thing, but its bittersweet and sad because you know that someone has had a tragic accident.

The mother told my mom she hope’s her son can help my dad. The next morning, we waited for the call from the hospital. Nothing. So, my mom called the transplant center and they had no idea of a directed donation to my dad. My mom told them of the calls she received. Later that day, the transplant center called my mom back and said we got a directed kidney donation for my daddy.

The transplant center moved fast to get all the tests to see if my dad matched. He matched. So, on New Year’s Eve we headed down to John Hopkins in Maryland for my dad to get his second chance at life. I was beyond happy! I had done it! I just knew I could help him.

On New Year’s Day, my dad received the gift of life.

Courtesy of Savannah L.
Courtesy of Savannah L.
Courtesy of Savannah L.

It was a selfless group of strangers that came together to help save my daddy, and ultimately our hero, John. I am FOREVER grateful. My mom still keeps in touch with John’s mom on Facebook and through text messages. Even though we haven’t met the group of strangers and John’s mom, we hope to some day.

A few weeks later, my mom received a message from a guy she went to high school with. He and his wife followed our story and wanted to try and test for the doctor in Florida that wasn’t a match for John’s kidney, but networked out and found us.

My mom’s high school friend tested for Dr. Stuart and IS A MATCH. Their transplant is scheduled for July 22nd, 2019.

I want to help others like people helped us because I am SO grateful. So, I opened my page ‘Savannah’s Secret Gift of Life Search’ for people to post their need for an organ. My hope is that more people can become living donors or non-living donors like our hero John. Without John, making the important decision to be an organ donor, my daddy might still be on dialysis today if our living donor didn’t work out.

Organ donation has changed our life. We no longer have to take the time out of our day to give my daddy life/dialysis. Dialysis effects the whole family. So, my advice to everyone out there… GET LOUD AND NEVER GIVE UP! I NEVER GAVE UP and because of it, I HELPED SAVE MY DADDY.”

Courtesy of Savannah L.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Savannah L. You can follow her and her family’s journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more powerful stories about organ donation:

‘My dad told us, ‘Make someone’s day better.’ I watched him take his last breath. ‘Just because he couldn’t receive my kidney, doesn’t mean somebody else shouldn’t.’ This is for you, dad.’

‘They called. My husband thought I was crazy. I hopped on a plane by myself. 1,500 miles from home, I sat on a stretcher, determined to help someone become a mom. I was REALLY doing this.’

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