When Eva Brown’s face began to swell up shortly after eating Japanese food last March, her mother, Alana Brown, initially thought her daughter was having an allergic reaction. But instead of buying her over-the-counter medicine, Alana listened to her instincts and took her then-8-year-old daughter to the hospital — a decision that saved young Eva’s life.
“They treated her, and everything seemed okay,” Alana, of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, tells PEOPLE. “But 45 minutes after we went home, it starts to happen again, but worse.”
Alana took Eva back to the hospital, and after a series of tests over the course of the night, doctors discovered Eva’s kidneys were failing. In fact, at that point, they had only been functioning at four percent efficiency.
The medical team told Alana if she hadn’t brought Eva in, she likely could have died within days.
“I cannot even describe to you, it shook my faith, and I was just on the verge of a breakdown,” Alana, 39, recalls. “We didn’t understand what was being told to us, we didn’t know, is my child gonna die?”
After several long and difficult months of scans and surgeries at the hospital, doctors diagnosed Eva with collapsing focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a condition that causes scarring to form in kidney tissue, according to the University of North Carolina Kidney Center. It does not typically respond to therapy, and leads to symptoms like high blood pressure, hypertension, edema and swelling in the legs, and, eventually, renal failure.
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Eva was in desperate need of a kidney transplant, but finding a viable candidate proved to be much more difficult than Alana imagined. Though many relatives were ready to donate to help little Eva, none were a match.
Since last August, Alana has helped to hook Eva up to a dialysis machine at home every night for sessions that typically last 10 hours at a time. It is a process that is mentally and physically draining, but necessary until the day a transplant comes in.
“It’s usually like a twelve to fifteen-hour process because there’s an hour to set-up beforehand, then you have to get all her vitals, and while it’s a ten-hour process, that’s only if there are no alarms,” Alana says. “But alarms go off all through the night, so you have to wake up, fix whatever the issue is, reset the machine, restart the machine, and then continue with that process.”
In addition to this, Eva, now 10 years old, takes anywhere between 20 to 30 pills a day.
Shortly after Eva’s diagnosis, the family set up a YouCaring donation page to raise funds for medical expenses, bills and supplies. Alana has remained out of work while caring for her daughter and is living with relatives to make ends meet.
With the weeks passing and Eva becoming more in need of a donor, a friend of Alana’s took to Facebook to ask if anyone would be willing to donate, and dozens of people responded — but one person stood out in particular, a stranger named Tanya Thomas.
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“Somehow Tanya got ahold of the post, and someone gave her my phone number, and we just started texting back and forth, along with the other people who had responded,” Alana says. “Slowly, one-by-one, everyone started fading out. But one person stayed, and it was Tanya Thomas.”
Thomas followed through with testings after responding to the Facebook post, and soon received word she was a match to become Eva’s donor.
All the while, Alana hadn’t realized the woman working to save her daughter’s life wasn’t much of a stranger after all: Thomas is a teacher at Slate Ridge Elementary, where Eva is a student. Alana didn’t find out until Thomas introduced herself at the school.
“I immediately started crying and wrapped my arms around her,” she says of meeting Thomas in person for the first time. “My jaw just dropped.”
With everything finally falling into place, doctors scheduled the transplant operation for May 30, though they may postpone it since Eva was recently hospitalized after becoming sick.
Hopefully, it will just be a brief delay to the family’s long-awaited dream.
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Alana says Thomas and Eva hope their story inspires others to become living donors so that other lives can be saved.
“Tanya wanted to make it clear that God gets all the glory, she did this because God told her to, and she wants to help bring awareness to others to be living donors,” Alana says. “It’s a message that she and Eva share.”
A “living-gift” such as the one Tanya is giving Eva, Alana says, can make all the difference for families in their greatest time of need.
“We were desperate, and God answered our prayers,” she says. “Everything that Eva does now, Tanya’s always going be a part of that.”