South Charlotte

A friendship that endured years apart

Cheryl Washington-Brantley and Linda McWhorter were high school buddies in Mobile, Ala.

They played flute in the marching band and had a similar sense of humor. But the two lost touch for about 20 years, until Cheryl found Linda on Facebook two years ago. Through their reconnection, Linda found out that Cheryl was in kidney failure due to lupus and needed a kidney.

Caren Knox-Huntley is a close friend of Linda's. "The timing of things...they reconnected on Facebook," she said. "All the pieces seemed to come together."

Cheryl still lives in Mobile, but Linda lives and works in Monroe. Linda and her husband made the trip to see Cheryl after all their years apart.

"I was so afraid she would die before I saw her," Linda said.

Linda decided to be tested to see if she was a match to donate a kidney for Cheryl. A blood sample was sent to the University of Alabama's Transplant Center.

"She's like a sister to me," Linda said. "She needed a kidney and I just felt like I would be a match."

Last month Linda got the call confirming that she was a match. "I hung up the phone and just started sobbing," she said.

She called Cheryl with the news.

"I'm very, very overwhelmed and grateful that I have a friend willing to sacrifice part of her body to save my life," Cheryl said. "Because of her, I'll have a life."

Cheryl has an 8-year-old daughter, Samantha.

"She needs to grow up with her mom," Linda said.

This major surgical procedure involves time, testing and recovery. So, at a recent 30th class reunion Cheryl and Linda organized a fundraiser. Linda's brother, Dan Povenmire, is creator of the animated Disney show "Phineas and Ferb." He donated autographed merchandise from the show and helped raise $8,600. They need to raise $50,000.

Linda, who works as a pediatric speech pathologist at Carolinas Medical Center-Union, will miss about four weeks of work. She has a family and is working on her Ph.D. in health psychology at UNCC.

Work and classmates are supporting her. Cheryl is on medical disability.

They have been approved for the transplant surgery to take place at Oschsner, a transplant center in New Orleans. They hope to have the surgery the beginning of September. Until then, Linda and Cheryl wait and talk on the phone for an hour every day.

"I have a deep faith that it's going to go well," Linda said. "It has already been a transforming experience. My heart is filled with compassion and I am touched by the opportunity to hopefully save my friend's life."

Caren teared up during my interview with them. "I've seen Linda grow so much," she said. "She has so much life now and it's spilling over to other people."

According to the National Kidney Foundation more than 26 million Americans - one in nine adults - have kidney disease.