Byrd, 41, is in her eighth year of teaching at Wilder Elementary in Mansfield, where she taught fifth grader Fisher Croney every year since he was in kindergarten. Fisher stood out by helping in Byrd’s classroom whenever he had free time after recess.
Byrd said she knew Fisher’s mother, Shannon Croney, as an acquaintance who would occasionally cut her son’s hair, and they would sometimes chat at their boys’ baseball games. She had heard that Croney was having some health problems but didn’t know what the issue was until she saw a Facebook post around Christmas of 2019. It was from Croney’s mother, trying to help her daughter find a kidney, and Byrd did not hesitate.
“She was O negative, and I’m O negative. I don’t know; I didn’t really think about it. I just called her kidney coordinator and went from there,” Byrd said.
For Croney, 43, the journey started in January 2019 when a routine blood test found her kidneys were functioning only at a 20% level, and she was in stage five renal failure. After undergoing a biopsy and a string of tests, doctors could not figure what caused her kidneys to fail, and she began dialysis.
In March, she learned that Byrd was a match. Croney told CNN that the two were such a close match that her doctors were surprised they were not related.
It was around that time that Croney’s transplant team at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital grew concerned about the spread of Covid-19 cases in the area. Byrd was undergoing extensive testing for the transplant, and the pandemic put the process into a holding pattern.
In June, doctors cleared Byrd for surgery. She said she was never nervous about the transplant.
“Actually, I had a strong sense of peace, like I was doing what I was supposed to do,” she said. She compared the pain from the surgery to having a C-section.
Today, Croney said, she is feeling better than she has in years. Byrd said she is doing well, but still dealing with exhaustion and fatigue as her remaining kidney grows and adapts.
The women are now turning their attention to another member of their community in need of a kidney transplant. Jason Eagleston is a single father of three who lives half a mile away from the Croneys’ home.
Croney said she wants anyone considering organ donation to know “you’re giving up an organ, but people go on to live totally normal lives with just one. You’re saving somebody’s life. It’s an amazing gift to give to somebody. … There are hundreds of thousands of people out there waiting.”