Former CSU Cheerleader Donates Kidney for Her Former Teammate

Chelsie Horton and Katie Birkhead became friends and Columbus State University Cheer teammates in 2012. Nearly ten years later, they are now embarking on a new journey together. Next Friday, Katie will indirectly donate a kidney to Chelsie.

Diagnosed with familial juvenile nephronophthisis when she was 2.5 years old, Chelsie has beaten the odds and lived an extremely active life. She participated in competitive gymnastics between the ages of 4 and 11, and then went on to become a cheerleader in middle school, high school, and at CSU. During her time as a CSU cheerleader, she finished in the top 4 for the National Co-Ed Partner Stunt competition and placed 5th in the National All-Girl Partner Stunt competition. Her team finished in the top 3 every year that she was on the team, including winning the National Title in her final year.

“Cheering at CSU was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” said Chelsie.

Since graduating with an associate’s degree in general studies in 2014, Chelsie has gone on to beat more odds. She made it through a high-risk pregnancy, delivering a healthy baby girl named Bevyn Ann in October of 2015. She moved to Bogart, Georgia, and she now works in internet sales at Heyward Allen Toyota in Athens. She also has been able to make it these years without going on dialysis, but time is running short. In 2018, her kidney function began to drop, and she was becoming dangerously close to needing dialysis. Fortunately, her friend Katie stepped up to the need and good news has arrived just in time.

Katie cheered with Chelsie during their time together at CSU. They instantly hit it off, but they became even closer when they both participated in Partner Stunt, a special competition group consisting of just four cheerleaders to a team. After the two graduated, they moved a couple hours apart. Katie, who is a current online graduate student at CSU, now lives in Gwinnett County where she teaches P.E. and coaches cheerleading for middle and high school. Although the two friends live miles apart, they remain in contact. When Katie saw on Facebook that Chelsie needed a new kidney, she knew exactly what she had to do.

“As soon as she posted it about, I didn’t even have a second thought,” said Katie. “You develop such a bond through cheerleading that I think any of our teammates would have done the same.”

Unfortunately, Katie was not a match. However, the pair signed up for the Paired Exchange Program. This is a program where if a donor’s desired recipient isn’t a match, they donate to someone else on the recipient’s behalf. Due to her condition, Chelsie was warned that it may take a while before a match is found. However, on May 7 at 3:07 p.m. Chelsie received the call she had been waiting for two years. A match had been found, and she would receive a new kidney.

Katie and Chelsie are part of an eight-person donation chain with four donors and four recipients across the country. Chelsie will be receiving a kidney from Oregon. Katie will be donating a kidney to someone in Pennsylvania, and then a donor in Pennsylvania will be sending a kidney to someone in Arizona.

“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 Katie. “This whole thing is about as exciting as our National Championship felt.”

The two are scheduled for their surgeries at Piedmont Hospital next Friday. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 they will have to be alone during recovery and will not be able to have any visitors.

“I’m so excited and so grateful that I’m able to help,” said Katie. “The fact that I can still be a part to help her and find her a match…I am just excited.”

For more information on Chelsie’s journey, visit https://www.facebook.com/ChelNeedsAKidney.