“As exciting as our National Championship:” Former CSU cheerleader donating kidney for teammate

“As exciting as our National Championship:” Former CSU cheerleader donating kidney for teammate
Chelsie Horton and Katie Birkhead (Source: Columbus State University)

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - They say the friends you make in college are the friends you have for a lifetime, and that is certainly the case for a pair of former Columbus State University cheerleaders, one of whom is stepping up to the plate when her friend needs her the most.

Chelsie Horton and Katie Birkhead became friends in 2012 when both were part of the CSU Cheer team.

When she was just two-and-a-half years old, Horton was diagnosed with familial juvenile nephronophthisis, which affects her kidneys.

From being a competitive gymnast to winning a National Title in cheerleading to making it through a high-risk pregnancy in 2015, Horton has beaten the odds her entire life.

She has managed to stay off of dialysis, but in 2018, her kidney function began to decrease, putting her dangerously close to needing dialysis. That is when Birkhead stepped in, volunteering to donate her kidney to her friend.

Though separated by miles and several hours after graduation, the pair managed to remain close friends.

“As soon as she posted about it, I didn’t even have a second thought,” said Birkhead.

Unfortunately, Birkhead was not a match. Instead, the pair joined the Paired Exchange Program, which allows a donor to donate to someone else on behalf of the recipient.

Two years later, in May 2020, Horton received a call that a match had been found and she would receive a new kidney. Through the Paired Exchange Program, Horton will receive a kidney from a donor in Oregon. Birkhead will donate her kidney to someone in Pennsylvania, and then a donor in Pennsylvania will be sending a kidney to someone in Arizona, allowing four people to receive the kidneys they need.

“Not only is it helping those four people receive a kidney, but it frees up four more spots for others who are on the list so it’s an amazing opportunity,” said Birkhead. “This whole thing is about as exciting as our National Championship felt.”

Horton and Birkhead’s surgeries are scheduled for Friday, May 29 at Piedmont Columbus Regional.

Chelsie Horton and Katie Birkhead
Chelsie Horton and Katie Birkhead (Source: Columbus State University)

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