CHARLESTON, S.C. (WSAV) — Paramedics are used to going the extra mile to save a life.

But for one Lowcountry EMS worker, that person was her 2-year-old niece.

The doctors diagnosed Natalyn Mann with Bilateral Renal Artery Stenosis (RAS). This is the result of the narrowing of the artery that feeds the kidneys and in her case, both are narrowed. Reductions in blood flow to the kidneys have resulted in her severe hypertension and renal failure.

The only way to help was a kidney transplant.

Sara Cathey was a match for Natalyn, but was told she was too heavy. So she dropped 135 pounds in one year to make the operation happen.

Sara says as she rolled into surgery, her team comforted her but the most calming influence was on the other end of the phone.

WSAV: “Facetiming her, the 2-year-old made you feel just as safe?”
“Just as safe,” smiled Sara. “I know she was in good hands. It was the day and we were doing it.”

The pair each went into surgery, Sara giving up her kidney, and Natalyn receiving it.

While MUSC Children’s Hospital doctors say the procedure went well, little Natalyn was still recovering while Sara was being released.

“I was discharged the next day and they said to go home,” remembers Sara. “I didn’t go home. I got in the truck and went over and saw Natalyn. She was still intubated and I kissed her and stayed here most of the night. And I’ve been with her every day almost.”


WSAV: “Why is that so important?”
Sara: “I think once you make that bond it is hard to break. And when you look at that cute little face it is hard to say know. When she hollers for Aunt Sara, I’m coming.”

“They told me to worry about me but worrying about me is worrying about her too.”

“We laid in the bed. We took naps together. Took out medicine together. The medicine is nasty isn’t it,” asked Sara.
“Yeah,” said Natalyn.

Sara and Natalyn take daily naps together since the procedure

A few pain issues and tough days after the procedure had the family concerned.

“Daddy can’t sit in her room and pout like a little baby waiting for her to show up when I know she’s fighting like a super warrior,” said Mikel Mann, Natalyn’s father. “The strongest. She is incredible. She gives me my power.”

“The moment she could sit up without pain medicine and Aunt Sara still couldn’t without help. I knew she was good to go,” smiles Cathey.

Those tough days have given way to more energy for Natalyn. Who her family says is coming out of her shell, again.

“It’s just good to see her running, running the PICU again,” said Sara. “She’s got everybody wrapped around her finger, it is a good feeling.”

What also feels, and tastes good for this pair, is mac and cheese. Princess mac and cheese to be exact. Sara couldn’t eat it for a year because of the carbs as she worked to lose weight. Natalyn’s body couldn’t tolerate the dairy, until now.

“I think she’s eaten three princess mac and cheeses already today.” laughs Sara.
“Why can you eat mac and cheese?” she asks Natalyn.
“Because I have my kidney.”
“And who gave you that kidney?”
“You,” the little girl smiles.

While many people will say that Sara saved Natalyn’s life with her donation. Sara sees it otherwise.

“I didn’t save her she truly saved me. I was almost 300 pounds. You can’t sustain that for very long.”

The story has made national news, passed around across the country. Cathey says she doesn’t want the publicity but is excited that this story may be able to help others.

“I’m glad the stories went national,” said Sara. “Living donations don’t get enough attention.”

“My advice to anyone is to go get tested. It’s a very honorable feeling to give somebody something that she can’t reproduce, she can’t make it herself.”

Natalyn is making urine now, which is ahead of schedule according to the family. She is eating, gaining strength, and seems to be handling the new kidney well.

Now the goal is to keep her healthy and gives this energetic fun loving little girl a chance to be just an everyday kid again. Or more likely, a princess.

“Hopefully she gets to live her life with no worries about being hooked up to tubes again,” Sara said. “I look forward to living her life without worrying. And me I’ll be watching her every step.”

“I hope she grows up to be Aunt Sara’s doctor one day.”
“She’s going to go all the way.”

Natalyn will spend the next two weeks at MUSC Children’s Hospital recovering before being allowed to go home to Beaufort.

The life span of a live kidney donation, especially with a family member, can be about 20 years. Natalyn’s family hopes it’s that long or longer, so she can have a normal life at least through high school.

If you want to help with Natalyn’s mounting medical bills, click or tap here.

To learn more about living kidney donations, click or tap here.