Longtime friend winds up being life-saving donor
Two friends, since their days at Houston County High School, reunited this holiday season after time and several moves kept them apart.
This year, their gifts to each other did not come in a box. As they told us, you can't put a price tag or a bow on a second chance at life.
Donna Barfield and Katie Emery share a lot of memories.
The two sit at a kitchen table, covered in snapshots documenting more than two decades of friendship since meeting in some of their first classes at Houston County High School.
She was miss athletic, cheerleader and things and that just was not me," Barfield laughs, talking about Emery. "But, over the years, it just worked."
"We became really good friends, probably, sophomore year," Emery explains. "I moved away after that year, but we just always stayed in contact."
That was in 1996.
"When you find somebody like that, that's very rare for an Air Force brat," says Emery, who was accustomed to moving throughout her childhood.
Since then, the two have made it a point to get together as often as they can. It became tougher over the years as they had families of their own.
This year, however, they can still laugh at old outfit choices and hairstyles sitting across the table at a home in Atlanta.
While this place was not Las Vegas or Paris or any of their other travels, it was their biggest adventure to date.
That's because the house sits just down the street from Emory Hospital.
"Any time you're down and out it can affect your emotional well-being, much less other relationships in life," Barfield says. "But Katie was always there for me, regardless."
Barfield was born with Polycistic Kidney Disease and was in desperate need of a transplant.
After months, the Warner Robins native finally found a donor who lived all the way on the other side of the country in California.
That donor was no stranger.
"They always tell you the matches are so rare, I guess, if you're outside the family. I thought, well, I'll give it a shot and see what happens," Emery says.
As it turns out, she was a perfect match. The two underwent surgery just in time to be home for the holidays.
"It didn't seem real!" Barfield says. She was shocked.
"The whole time I was, like, I know I'm your person. I know it. I just feel it," Emery says. "She's been let down so much by all of it, but I just knew."
Barfield had been through this before, receiving her first transplant in July 2016.
"Everything was perfect," she explains. "I returned to work, and on October 22nd, I was rushed to the ER with severe pain. The kidney had flipped inside me. The kidney was too damaged to work enough."
"You have a lot of private conversations with God," she continues, fighting back tears. "You evaluate things. You realize you can't give up."
Barfield just hadn't found her perfect match. She was there, though, and had been all along.
"I feel like it did happen for a reason," Emery says. "That's why the whole time I kept telling her, 'I know I'm it. I can feel it. I can feel it.'"
Through all those years, all those moves, and all those miles between them, these two friends stayed in touch.
Now, they know why.
A rare match came from a rare friendship.
"It means being the mother that my children want," Barfield says. "It means being the wife that my husband deserves and being the person I've always wanted to be."
The pair stayed in Atlanta for about a week before doctors cleared them to go home.
They say they want to come back to that house next year for a reunion.
If you would like to learn more information about organ donation or register to be a donor, click here.
Barfield says, even if you cannot donate, there are other ways to help, like supporting non-profits that raise awareness about organ donation.
She says you can also do something as simple as bring a meal to someone who is awaiting a transplant.