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Statesboro's Jenni Deal is praying for a Christmas miracle in a kidney donor

Statesboro residents Jenni and Curt Deal are praying for a Christmas miracle in the form of a kidney donor for Jenni. Read on to learn about about Jenni's year-long medical journey that has left her in need of a transplant.
Curt and Jenni Deal in their home

Never have I met a couple that has faced more adversity with stronger faith than Jenni and Curt Deal.  From the sudden and tragic death of their son Harrison three years ago, to now Jenni being placed on the kidney transplant list, they are a living example of the power of finding peace in God’s presence through their unwavering faith in life's most difficult times.

As we all head toward Christmas, there is only one gift on their list, and that is a new kidney for Jenni.  At 51, and until now has lived a pretty healthy life, she never dreamed she would be needing an organ transplant.  

They have been working with a team at Emory, and they have cleared her for a kidney transplant. Now she just needs to find a donor. CLICK HERE to learn more about becoming a donor for Jenni.

Challenging medical journey

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year (2022), Jenni started feeling bad. She thought she had a sinus infection. She went to the doctor, received meds, and began feeling better. She joined her family for a trip to New York City for Christmas. On the last day of the trip, she began feeling bad again.

When she returned home, she went to the doctor again and received more meds, but this time she did not improve.

She had lost her appetite and became dehydrated.

This time she returned to her primary doctor, Dr. Zach McGalliard with Statesboro Family Healthcare, who ran some tests and discovered that her kidney function levels were abnormal. He sent her to EGRMC’s E.D., and they confirmed her kidneys were not functioning properly. They gave her fluids and hoped that this was caused by dehydration.  

Further testing determined that she was in acute renal failure. She was not eating or drinking, she felt bad, and she had become lethargic. Nothing tasted good to her. Even water tasted like metal.   

Her doctors worked to reverse it medically, but her body did not respond. They did everything they could to prevent her from having to start kidney dialysis.  

Dr. James Jackson, her Nephrologist, did a kidney biopsy and diagnosed her with a very rare disease called Goodpasture syndrome.

Goodpasture syndrome

Goodpasture syndrome is a rare disorder in which your body mistakenly makes antibodies that attack the lungs and kidneys. In Jenni’s case, her lungs were not impacted, only her kidneys.

Dr. Jackson started her on dialysis and sent her to Savannah for further treatment. There she was under the care of Dr. Dana Kumjian, a Nephrologist. In his entire career, Jenni was only the 5th patient he has treated with Goodpasture.

The focus now was on restoring her health and treating the Goodpasture. She was hospitalized at St. Joseph’s in Savannah for 16 days, and the treatment included Plasmapheresis. The 14-day treatment involved cleaning her plasma and putting in new plasma. The goal with this treatment was to jump start her body to save her life.

Curt and Jenni during her 16 day hospital stay. DeWayne Grice

In addition, she was treated with a chemo drug that attacked the Goodpasture disease. This caused her to lose all of her hair.

During the process, she also had three ports put into her chest.

The treatment was successful, and she was now ready to begin her journey back home. But first she had to wait for a chair in a Statesboro dialysis center to open up.  She continued hemodialysis once returning home.

Dialysis journey

To do at-home dialysis, Jenni had to have a Peritoneal Dialysis port put in. However, she was told it could take months to get this procedure done in Savannah.

In a conversation Curt had with Ted Wynn, Bulloch County Public Safety Director, he learned that Ted’s cousin Dr. Jim Wynn, who is a transplant surgeon in Augusta, GA, and Statesboro native, could possibly help her.  

“It was another God movement. I spoke to Ted at a morning meeting, and late that night Dr. Jim Wynn, who was a stranger to me at the time, called and reassured me that he could perform this procedure in a matter of days in Augusta,” said Curt Deal. “Sure enough, he was able to do this days later, and she was on her way to beginning dialysis at home. What a blessing he has been to us.”

Curt then began the process of learning how to perform in-home dialysis.  

Curt looking through dialysis supplies. DeWayne Grice

A few weeks later, after the port healed, she was able to begin dialysis at home. Jenni now receives 12 hours of home dialysis treatment daily.

Birthday gift

In early April 2023, as her health improved, Jenni was referred to Dr. Thomas Pearson, a transplant surgeon at Emory in Atlanta. He declared her a candidate for transplant, pending her health continued to improve and her body became stronger.

On July 1, 2023, Jenni’s 51st birthday, she received clearance to be placed on the transplant list. CLICK HERE to learn more about becoming a donor for Jenni.

Emergency surgery

Then her appetite began to lessen, and she was having trouble eating. After months of additional testing, it was determined that her gallbladder was failing, and she ended up have emergency surgery by Dr. John Allen at EGRMC.

“The morning after the surgery, I was eating everything they would bring me. It was so wonderful to have an appetite again,” Jenni said. “Curt came in and was stunned at the improvement and that I was wanting food and keeping it down. Going from no appetite to a full appetite was so wonderful.”

Eyesight failing her

Back on track, they started to begin looking for a donor when she was hit with yet another medical setback. Her eyesight was beginning to fail her.

She had Dr. Brent Laricey check her, and he discovered that she had a detached retina. He sent her to a specialist in Augusta for surgery. Two eye surgeries later and she is now on a path to have her eyesight restored. It will still be months before she can drive again, but she is improving. She will have to have at least one more surgery in April on her eyes.

Through all of this, their faith is unwavering. They both understand that they are living on God’s timing and that all of these medical detours are just part of their journey.  

With Goodpasture in the rear view mirror, it is time to actively pursue getting her a kidney.

Unshakable faith

Now they have reached a point where they have decided to reach out to the community for help in finding a suitable transplant candidate for her. None of her family members who have been tested are a match.

Fighting back tears, Jenni said, “I don’t know where to start thanking everyone. The prayers and friends taking care of us has kept us going. Curt and the girls, Hannah and Halli, have been such a blessing to me. We have felt the love and power of prayer from so many prayer warriors from our church family to complete strangers. The cards, messages, texts, emails from all around the world have held me together. This entire community has been behind us and we are all so grateful.”

Jenni describes how in her darkest days during this journey while she was in the hospital fighting for her life, became some of her best days, as she felt HIS presence.  

“I knew he was with me. I saw God’s hand in so many. I have lots of God stories. If I wasn't a believer before, I definitely am now,” said Jenni.  “God has shown himself through strangers in something as simple as a note, with the perfect words I needed at that moment. This happens over and over again.”

The Deals know God has a plan for them. They know God will use their story to touch someone and inspire them to give her a kidney so they can continue God’s work.

Inspiration to all 

This family is so special and are such an inspiration to so many, especially me. No matter how challenging my life is, I just pause and think of them and their journey. Their strength, patience, and tenacity to keep on pushing forward is a sermon in itself.  

I will close this story with one of my favorite Bible verses that reminds me of this sweet, tested family and a prayer that a donor will come forward soon.

PSALM 46:1-2 | God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea.