Looking at the two women sitting in a fourth-grade classroom at South Thibodaux Elementary, it’s easy to think they have been lifelong friends.
But Lauren Lawes and teacher Jordan Starks met just two weeks ago as both their lives changed forever.
Starks suffered from preeclampsia during her first pregnancy, giving birth to her son at 26 weeks in January 2016.
The doctors said her kidneys were depleted, one at 12 percent of its normal function.
Not bad enough to start dialysis, Starks was placed on the transplant list at low priority.
To this day, wrapping her head around the diagnosis can be difficult as she has no physical symptoms of her kidney failure and has lived a full life for two years.
After a year of waiting, she heard nothing.
Countless family members and close friends were tested, but none proved to be a match.
Her nanny was the closest hope she had, but a devastating call told Starks she would have to keep looking.
“C’est la vie,” she said, citing her lifelong motto.
Social media to the rescue
Unsure about publicizing her personal issues, Starks said she was hesitant about reaching out to friends on social media about her situation.
For a while, the thought a private donation felt selfish, Starks said.
But a push from the transplant coordinator at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans led to the Facebook post that gave her a lifelong best friend.
When the 20-year-old Lawes saw a Facebook post about someone searching for a kidney donation, she decided to try and help. Her mother decided to climb on board.
A simple call to Ochsner’s transplant team landed them an appointment and many rounds of blood tests and CT scans.
They began the process in late October, waiting months to hear any news.
When the call came Jan. 26, they were ready, but nothing could have prepared Lawes for when it came. Her kidneys were a match, and so were her mother’s.
“I was just sitting there for hours,” Lawes said, waiting for the news to sink in.
She and her mother struggled over who would ultimately give the donation.
“I really felt it, and she let me,” Lawes said.
A life of donation
The Thibodaux native has been donating blood for as long and as much as she could, so the decision to give up one of her kidneys to help a new mother in need was easy, she said.
Lawes said she decided to give her name and contact information for the coordinator to pass along, wanting to meet the woman she was helping.
A few days later, on Jan. 29, Starks was teaching her fourth grade English language arts class when she got the call.
As the woman on the phone told her she found a donor, Starks said she could barely process what was happening, let alone that the gift was coming from a stranger.
Starks rushed outside to call her family and husband and they began the search for Lawes to express her overflowing gratitude.
“Knowing that she wanted to know me was incredible,” Lawes said as she started to tear up.
When they met for the first time, it was an instant connection.
“I wanted her to come and live with me,” Starks said.
They talked for hours as if they had known one another their whole lives, they said.
“Neither one of us could stop talking,” Starks said.
Because Lawes’ mother is also a match, Starks says she feels more comfortable about taking the kidney; if Lawes ever has complications, her mother’s matching kidney will be there to help.
The two are planning to do the transplant during the summer break, just after their birthdays, which are a day apart on June 11 and 12.
The timing couldn’t be better. Lawes is studying education at Fletcher Technical Community College in Schriever and Starks is earning her master’s degree. But they will be on summer break during the transplant.
“There’s no possible way to pay her back,” Starks said, fighting off tears. “This is why I want to show her off and praise her. There’s nothing I can do that’s enough.”