Cole Tumey was all smiles recently as he shared time with family and friends at his house in Summerfield.
More than 50 people had gathered at Chris and Leona Yawn’s home to celebrate a very special occasion. Chris had turned 44 that day, and while it was true that everyone was there to share in his special moment, all of them except 18-year-old Tumey knew a much bigger celebration was moments from taking place.
One would never have known it that night, but Tumey, a senior at Village Christian Academy, was awaiting a kidney transplant. He had been suffering from end stage renal disease and the kidney Leona donated to him when he was just two years old already had been removed because it was failing rapidly and causing his blood pressure to reach dangerous heights.
Tumey had been rushed to UF Health Shands Hospital on New Year’s Eve and within days his doctors decided that his best option was to have his only kidney removed. That meant he would return home later that month with no kidney and would have to travel to Shands several times a week for dialysis. But doctors had made it quite clear to Leona, who is a nurse at the VA Outpatient Clinic in The Villages, that no other options were going to work.
Fast-forward to the evening of March 3 and there was Cole, a huge smile on his face as always, floating about the room with girlfriend Addie McClain by his side.
As the phone started ringing, Tumey had no idea that his life was about to be changed forever. But seconds later he was on speakerphone listening to a woman he’d never met tell him that she had been following his Team Cole Facebook page and had been touched by one of his posts about a Bible study and having faith in God.
“Have you ever felt like God was trying to tell you something?” Amber Ferguson, a married mother of two small children who lives in Lake City, asked Tumey.
As he answered, “Yes ma’am,” Ferguson could wait no longer.
“Cole, I’m your kidney donor,” she said.
As those magical words rang out, the Yawn house was quickly filled with applause. Tumey put his hands over his face as the tears flowed down his cheeks. And Leona shared a tender moment while hugging her son tightly.
There’s a special bond that exists between a mother and her son, and on that night, it was quite evident as Tumey buried his head into Leona’s shoulders, no doubt feeling safer that he’d felt in quite some time.
At that point, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place as Ferguson, who works in the blood bank at Shands, talked briefly about starting the process before Thanksgiving and immediately turning in her donor packet.
“I think they were tired of hearing from me pretty quick because I blew up their email,” she said with a chuckle.
The Yawns, along with close family friend Tracy Gooden, had spent several months last year trying to find Tumey a kidney before Christmas. Until that night, they had no idea that their mission had been a success. But Leona said they had never lost faith that a donor would be found.
“We are so grateful and I feel like I’ve known you forever,” Leona told Ferguson. “Thank you so, so much because it makes such a difference personally in his life, let alone the rest of us who are touched through him. We love you and thank you for being a part of our family, because girl, you’re in it!” she said to a round of laughter.
A short time later, after things had somewhat calmed down, Leona described her feelings as “over the moon” as she recalled her initial conversation with Ferguson earlier that morning.
“I’m still so overwhelmed. It’s been emotional,” she said. “But now I’m in planning mode.”
Leona said there’s obviously some fear because the family has been through this surgery before, even though it will be much different this time.
“I was on the operating table then and I couldn’t really be with him,” she said. “Now it will be better because I’ll be able to be by his side.”
When asked what it meant to get such good news on his birthday, tears ran down Chris’ face.
“God answers prayers,” he said, hugging Tumey tightly. “And for him to get the news on my birthday, that was better than any other present.”
Gooden, who has known Tumey since he played T-ball with her son, Matthew, 13 years ago, said she was driving when Leona called her with the good news.
“I just started crying,” she said. “I knew how I felt. But I couldn’t even imagine how she was feeling.”
Like Leona, Gooden said she never lost faith that a donor would come forward.
“There’s been so many prayers and so much out there,” she said. “I knew the right person was out there for him.”
After hugging Gooden and thanking her for her support, Tumey – clearly still overwhelmed from the earth-shattering news he’d received moments earlier – said he’s also looking forward to thanking Ferguson for the cherished gift she’s giving him.
“I can’t wait to meet her,” said Tumey, whose GoFundMe page can be reached HERE for those who want to help. “Hopefully we can spend more time together afterwards and get to know each other.”
Ferguson, 28, said God led her to the decision to donate a kidney to Tumey.
“It was the strongest, most intense feeling I have ever experienced and I instantly knew I was a match without a doubt,” she said. “I have felt God move before, but this was so much stronger than anything I have ever experienced in my life.”
Tumey, who hopes to start playing baseball again soon and possibly major in music at Southeastern University – he’s a self-taught guitar player – offered one final, telling thought: “Please, can life just be back to normal?”
If Leona, Chris, Amber, little brother Cage, big sister Cassidy, girlfriend Addie, close friend Tracy, family members, friends, classmates, parishioners at New Identity Church in Belleview, community members, Team Cole Facebook followers, GoFundMe contributors and a team of specialists at Shands have anything to say about it, Tumey should find out on May 21 that the answer to that question is a resounding, “Yes!”