HORNELL, NY (WETM) – A parent would do anything for their child, even give a kidney. Chris Cavanaugh of Hornell didn’t think twice when his daughter Charlotte Cavanaugh needed one of his.
After five years of trying to grow their family, Chris and Carli Cavanaugh were blessed with a child. But roughly four months into the pregnancy, the Cavanaughs got the worst news expecting parents could get, their baby had myelomeningocele, a serious form of spina bifida.
“It was very very very bad,” Carli Cavanaugh said. “We had options, she would need surgery immediately when she was born or terminate the pregnancy, or kind of a long shot was to search out the children’s hospital in Philadelphia, CHOP.”
The Cavanaughs went to Philadelphia where they learned that Carli would need to have surgery on Charlotte’s back while she was in utero.
The surgery worked, but there was an unknown complication that caused Carli to lose all of her amniotic fluid later creating complications to Charlotte’s kidneys.
Charlotte needed a new kidney to survive and for years she was on a transplant list. Every night she had to have dialysis. Both her parents were tested to see if they could give Charlotte one of their kidneys and Chris was a match.
Charlotte was too small at the time to receive her father’s kidney. For a year, Chris and Carli helped Charlotte with growth hormones, daily shots, and extra food.
“Every time she would throw-up it felt like such a loss because she was losing those calories,” Carli recalled. “I just remember so many times choking back tears.”
But Charlotte grew and she finally was big enough for the kidney. Charlotte is no stranger to the operating room. She has had eight surgeries, including two on her brain. But this time she was going under the knife, at the same time as her father, during a pandemic.
“They both had to have COVID tests 24 hours before,” said Carli.
The community has stood by the Cavanaughs’ side from the very beginning, sending prayers, love, and well wishes on the Facebook page, Charlotte’s Journey. On the day of the kidney transplant, local fire, police, EMS and loved ones gave them a send-off that the family will never forget.
“I was so humbled by it and at the same time I’m crying, I’ve got my daughter in the car with me,” Chris shared. “It was awesome.”
They still have a long journey ahead of them, including many trips back to Philadelphia, but when asked if they would move out of Hornell to be closer to the hospital, they said absolutely not.
“We love our community,” Chris said.
A Go Fund Me was created for the family’s medical expenses. At first, Carli and Chris were resistant to the idea of accepting financial gifts, until a friend pointed out that this was for Charlotte.
“We thought, gosh, we don’t need a Go Fund Me because there are people who are worse off than we are and I had a close friend of mine who said, ‘why would you take a blessing away from Charlotte?’ and I thought, oh boy,” Carli said.
The little family is back home now healing. Charlotte is learning to walk and Carli said that she can see how much healthier her daughter feels now with her new kidney.
“I tell everybody, it’s like she is coming out of a fog,” Carli said. “I feel like her quality of life has already improved.”