HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — In January 2018, Annabelle Whitaker and her family learned she would need a kidney transplant after being diagnosed with stage 5 kidney disease.
"The hardest thing really was knowing that she had it," said her father Neil Whitaker. "Then trying to get into Emory to get on a transplant list with her being a special-needs child was even harder."
It took nearly six months for doctors to put Annabelle on the transplant list.
Meanwhile, the central Georgia community rallied around the Whitaker family with support and fundraisers.
"Annabelle has a huge support system, and we are very, very thankful and blessed for that," said her mother, Heather.
After her diagnosis, Annabelle even got a visit from her former Houston County High classmate and University of Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm.
Even with all of the support, the journey for Annabelle wasn't easy. She's had multiple surgeries and transfusions and has to go through dialysis treatments every night.
After a long wait, Annabelle and her family found out May 22 that she officially had a donor.
Her parents said they met Natalie Nuce in 2009 during a trip to Ohio to get Annabelle's service dog. They struck up a friendship by bonding over their love for the Georgia Bulldogs, and they have stayed close ever since.
"As soon as Annabelle got sick and was officially on the transplant list, she told us she felt like she was called to do something, and this is somebody we met by chance," said Heather.
That chance meeting could now lead to a new chance at life for Annabelle.
Her parents said transplants at Emory are on hold due to COVID-19, so they don't know when Annabelle will be able to have her surgery, but they are just grateful to have a donor.
"It's just such a weight off your shoulders," said Neil.
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