Texas Grandmother Donates a Kidney to Save Her Toddler Granddaughter

Cindy Smith volunteered to undergo surgery to save her granddaughter's life.

May 06, 2015, 3:27 PM

— -- A Texas grandmother plans to celebrate Mother's Day with her daughter and toddler granddaughter less than two months after donating her kidney to save her granddaughter's life.

Cindy Smith, 54, said she feels "blessed" that she was able to be there for both her granddaughter, Clara, and her daughter, Kate Boddie. Clara, now 21 months old, was born with only a single kidney, and it was impaired by cysts.

"This is our first grandbaby," Smith said. "Nowadays, things go so smoothly with science, and it just was not the case with Clara. ... We knew she was a fighter."

Boddie told ABC News that doctors discovered kidney problems in the unborn baby when she was still pregnant. When Clara was born at Texas Children's Hospital, the newborn was immediately whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit. Just a week later, doctors told Boddie and her husband that Clara would need a kidney transplant and would have to be on daily dialysis until then.

Boddie said as soon as she told her mother the news, Smith offered to be a donor for Clara.

"My mom said, 'I want to do it,'" recalled Boddie. "[I said] 'You’re crazy, grandma,' ... She said, 'No really I want to do it."

Clara remained in the neonatal intensive care unit before finally going home when she was 3 months old. Because of her size, she was not eligible for a transplant until she got older. At home, Boddie and her husband still had to put Clara through dialysis every night.

Boddie said signs of Clara's kidney failure were also clear in other ways. The girl didn't like solid food and she was "low-key."

When Clara was old enough to receive a kidney, Boddie and her husband were tested as potential living donors, but neither was a match.

"We were pretty devastated because you just want to take care of the baby," said Boddie.

At that point, Smith said she was waiting for the chance to get tested as a potential donor. Referring to a football tradition at Texas A&M University, where coaches refer to the "12th man" who volunteers to come in from the sidelines, Smith told her daughter she was ready to undergo surgery.

"I called my daughter and said, 'I have my 12th man jersey on and I’m ready to go in,'" Smith told ABC News.

Smith was found to be a match for Clara and surgery was scheduled for the end of March.

"I’m quite sure that I’m the one that has been blessed," said Smith. "How many grandmas get to to do this? That will maybe change her whole life."

PHOTO: Cindy Smith donated a kidney to her toddler granddaughter earlier this year.
Cindy Smith donated a kidney to her toddler granddaughter earlier this year.
Courtesy Kate Boddie

Boddie said she was elated that the surgery was happening but was still worried that both her mother and daughter would be undergoing surgery at the same time.

"I was thinking for a year and half it was going to be me," Boddie said of potentially being the kidney donor. "I was so, so grateful that my mom stepped up. It was exciting but terrifying ... when it's someone else that I love."

Throughout the eight-hour surgery, Boddie was able to talk to nurses and medical staff, which helped calm her nerves. Both Smith and Clara did well during and after the surgery.

A day after the operation, Smith was able to walk over and see her granddaughter for the first time since the surgery.

"To see Clara and know [she'd have] no more dialysis -- I thought the birth of my children would be that moment. This rivals it," said Smith. "To see that baby well."

Now nearly two months since the operation, Boddie said Clara "bounced back" almost immediately. While before the operation she didn't like solid food, the first thing the toddler did when she got home from the hospital was have a solid food snack.

"And I’m not going to lie: I cried," said Boddie. "You can tell she feels better. Before the surgery, she was very low-key. ... I think a lot of the time she didn’t have the energy to have a fight for things. Now she’s feisty."

This Sunday, all three generations of the family are planning to celebrate Mother's Day. Smith said she hopes for something simple like a picnic with family members.

"Every single day, you need to celebrate," said Smith. "When you look at losing at someone like a brand-new baby, it’s like 'OK, we’re going to boil down to what the priories are.'"

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