Montgomery woman behind ‘Verna Needs a Kidney’ billboards finally getting a new kidney

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Verna Johnson thought she knew what to expect.

For years, Johnson sat by her sister Marcella’s side as she battled kidney disease. In 2015, Marcella died waiting for a new kidney, her name on the same waiting list for the past 11 years.

By 2017, Johnson herself was diagnosed with kidney disease. What came next was something she had never expected.

“I felt her pain,” the Montgomery native said. “It made me more aware of what she was going through.”

As she went through treatment, Johnson had good days and bad days, days when she thought she would be able to overcome her disease and other days when she felt she would end up like her sister, waiting for a kidney that would never come.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are over 100,000 people waiting for kidney transplants, some of which can take between three to five years or longer to come. Every 14 minutes, someone is added to the waiting list. Every day, at least 13 people on the waiting list die.

Instead of waiting for a new kidney to be given to her, Johnson decided to find her one herself. In April, she began putting up billboards in different parts of Birmingham and Montgomery with the words “VERNA NEEDS A KIDNEY” printed in bold letters, along with the phone number for UAB Medical Center.

Last week, Johnson met Jaime Burchfield, a teller at the credit union for the Jefferson County Health Department, who offered to donate one of her kidneys to her. The meeting and revelation were all captured on a video posted to Facebook.

It is with great excitement and anticipation that we announce VERNA “GOT” A KIDNEY!In the big picture, Kidney Disease has become a national epidemic. In America, 37 million adults suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease. Over 94,000 people are on the Kidney Donor Waiting List. This list continues to grow in size year after year.Here at home, Alabama ranks 5th Worst in the nation in the number of cases of Kidney Disease. Recent studies reveal that Alabama has the longest transplant wait time of any state in the country. The average national wait time is 3-5 years. In Alabama, you could easily increase that wait time to 7 years or more.The Verna Needs A Kidney Facebook page launched in April of 2019. From the beginning, our belief was “if we carried the message, God would do the rest. Through His grace and the hard work of many loving people, Verna's campaign was able to reduce the wait time to just 5 months.I have heard it said that “sometimes miracles are just good people with kind hearts that God sends your way.” That was definitely the case here. Verna's successful campaign was the result of social media, news outlets, and businesses… partnering with the community.The VERNA NEEDS A KIDNEY Facebook page would like to express gratitude to all involved! Thank you for your empathy and support!Any grassroots organization or campaign is void without community support. The love the public poured onto the "Verna Needs A Kidney" Facebook page was amazing! We may not all be called to donate a kidney, but we are all called to care! Thank you for all the “prayers” and “shares”! By helping get the word out…. you are equally responsible for this miracle!A special “Thank You” goes out to Mashburn Outdoor Advertising. The company's billboards in Birmingham and Montgomery proclaimed VERNA NEEDS A KIDNEY to thousands and thousands of commuters each day. What began as a company trying to make a difference led to a deep friendship with Verna's campaign. The entire company followed Verna's progress and cheered her on as updates were shared!We would also like to thank all reporters and news outlets that covered Verna's story. Your compassion in reporting has not only helped Verna, but also furthered awareness of kidney disease and the need for Living Kidney Donors. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do in the name of Organ Donation. You are helping to save lives!Finally, words can not express the feelings of gratitude that Verna Johnson has for her Donor. This courageous and selfless act is not only saving her life, but also adding quality to it! You are an example of what is good in the world! Thank you for stepping forward and setting an example for us all.The Living Kidney Donor (Ms. Jaime Burchfield) came forward as a result of a Facebook post placed on the Church Of The Highlands Community Page. Surgery is scheduled for the end of October at UAB Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama. * With respect to donor, recipient, and families… we request privacy the day of surgery.

Posted by Verna Needs A Kidney on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

“As you go through this journey, when you find out you have a donor, there’s an overwhelming feeling of joy and there’s this peace that comes over you,” Johnson said. “This is all God. We do the work and God will do the rest.”

Like Johnson, Burchfield felt their meeting was part of some divine intervention. In fact, it was through Church of the Highlands, where Burchfield goes to church, that she found out about Johnson’s story.

“I actually saw it on the church’s Facebook page back in the spring,” Burchfield said.

Over the coming weeks, Burchfield felt called to help Johnson by donating one of her kidneys to her. They were both the same blood type — O positive — and Burchfield felt that if she had the ability to give something Johnson needed, she should do it.

“God just placed this desire in my heart, like he was saying ‘Jaime, I need you to do this,'” she said.

Johnson calls Burchfield her “angel.”

“I knew God would send someone,” she said.

Now, Johnson believes she has been given a new start.

“This has given me a sense of power, a sense of wanting to help others and encourage them,” she said. “I want to be a voice for others and continue working on their behalf.”

The procedure is scheduled for the end of the month at UAB Hospital.

Look for the full CBS 42 story that will air Thursday.


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