Family rallies around Georgia grandmother in need of kidney donor

When Cherokee Rabjohn woke up on her 10th birthday, she was in a hospital bed with very little understanding of how she got there.

"You know those big headphones we used to have in elementary school? So, I put them on and I, like, moved my jaw and my jaw cracked," Rabjohn said, remembering. "And the entire side of my face was drooping, so it looked like I'd had a stroke."

She hadn't had a stroke, but she did have a golf ball-sized tangle of blood vessels in the center of her brain.  The only option was undergoing risky brain surgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

"We didn't know how she would be when she got out," says Cherokee's mother, Debbie Rabjohn. "They said she may never walk, she might not really talk, she might not know her family or anyone."

The surgery, however, was a success, and today Rabjohn is working toward her master's degree in education at the University of West Georgia; she's currently completing a summer internship at Reinhardt University in Waleska. But Cherokee Rabjohn's been spending time around doctors and nurses again lately -- this time, supporting the woman who never left her bedside all those years ago. 

"Twenty-three years ago, I was diagnosed with a kidney disease, and it was pretty rare," says Debbie Rabjohn. "And now, I need a kidney."

Debbie Rabjohn is currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant; it's a process that can be agonizingly slow, which why her daughter had a lightning-fast reaction. 

"I was like, 'Can I give my kidney?' I've never seen a more shocked look on my mom's face because I don't even think it even took me half a second. I was like, 'Oh, you want my kidney?'"

Says Debbie: "To have your own child go under the knife at the same time you're going under the knife and not be able to care for her and take care of her, was very hard. And so, for me, I was like, 'Hmm, not sure this will work for me.' And she just basically sat me down and said, 'You gave me life. If I can give you a kidney and keep you around ... because I don't want to live without you.'"

Doctors say Cherokee's kidney isn't an exact match for her mother, but she still plans to donate so that her kidney will go to someone else who needs it, freeing up another kidney for her mother. It's a process called a "paired kidney exchange," and it's the same thing FOX Medical Team reporter Beth Galvin took part in back in 2015.

Family and friends are also on a mission to inspire others to become organ donors because, as Debbie's grandson Jayse says, "My Noni needs a kidney."

And in their second major medical journey together, a lesson for the Rabjohn family: mothers may give life, but daughters can, too.

Family and friends have set up a GoFundMe page for Debbie Rabjohn, which you can find here.  And Debbie's donation coordinator Barbara may be reached at 404-605-4128.

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