Former Youth Leadership Program student's gift keeps on giving

Former Youth Leadership Program student's gift keeps on giving

It’s not uncommon to hear of Washington Youth Tour alumni who go on to lead lives of service and sacrifice. Hayden Johnson, a 2014 delegate from Cobb EMC, took it to a new level.

On June 19, 2015 — the Friday before Father’s Day — Johnson donated a kidney to her father, Kyle, who had been on dialysis for five years and on a kidney transplant list just as long. By that time, she says, “multiple family members and close friends tested to be his kidney donor, but none made it very far through the testing process.”

A month before she turned 18 (the minimum age to be a donor), Johnson began the long, arduous process of testing to see if she was a match.

“It starts with a blood test, and before that day I had said that never in my life did I want to have any surgery or even get blood drawn,” she recalls. “Funny to look back at that now, and it is such a testament to the Lord’s grace and power.”

Part of the testing included a two-day stay at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, where Johnson met with a nephrologist, surgeon and living-donor coordinator. It also involved a session with a psychiatrist to see if she was emotionally prepared for the transplant.

Johnson says when she told her parents she wanted to be tested, “they were shocked, to say the least”— especially considering her aversion to pain. “But I explained that God had placed this on my heart and I had been thinking and praying over it for a while, and so I finally got their permission. However, they made sure that I knew I could back out at any point.”

Once Kyle Johnson received his daughter’s kidney, it started working immediately. “Since then, his creatinine numbers [a measure of kidney function] have been great,” she says. “We are very thankful.”

Hayden Johnson’s body adapted well to having only one kidney, and she is in excellent health. Running was one activity she has curtailed since the surgery.

“The recovery process was definitely long and hard and caused some muscle atrophy, and I just didn’t enjoy running as much after that,” she says. “I still run occasionally, but I have found other ways to stay active, like yoga and hiking.”

A senior at Anderson University in South Carolina, Johnson is on track to graduate in May with bachelor’s degrees in communication and theater. She is interested in a career in social media management, arts marketing or corporate communications.

Johnson and her family do something special every year to mark the transplant anniversary.

“The first year, we went on a mini-vacation to Barnsley Gardens in Adairsville and celebrated with a nice dinner,” she says. “The second year I wasn’t living in Georgia, so my parents sent me an Edible Arrangement at work. In 2018, I went out to dinner in Atlanta with my parents a couple weeks before and also had a daddy-daughter dinner date on the actual day. We also occasionally do small gifts, so it really is like another holiday for us.”

Johnson calls her time on the 2014 Washington Youth Tour “a truly unforgettable week” and says she’s grateful for the opportunity to represent both Cobb EMC and Georgia. “I’ve seen God use that experience and turn it into two internships [at Cobb EMC and Georgia EMC], multiple scholarships, freelance work, countless learning opportunities, a greater appreciation for EMCs and the opportunity to meet some wonderful friends and role models.”

Hayden Johnson

During the 2014 Washington Youth Tour, Hayden Johnson, left, poses with Flint Energies delegate Sarah Wilcox with the Capitol as a backdrop (photo by Byron McCombs).

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