She arrived at the hospital before the sun rose. Her resolve was steadfast.
Tests of every acronym were done—MRI, EKG, CAT scans, the works.
Despite being healthy on all accounts, Cassandra Haynes was going under the knife.
The Claremore woman checked into the St. John Transplant Center for an emergency that wasn't hers.
In simultaneous surgeries, Haynes and her aunt, Jamie Helt, were going under the knife for a kidney transplant.
"Jamie had a kidney transplant when she was younger and we always knew she would need another one. I knew that my whole life and always thought I would want to be tested when the time came,"Haynes said. "So, when the time came, I was ready."
She said from there it was an onslaught of tests.
"Everything came back and I was a match, and it was a go from there," Hayes said.
It was months of doctor's appointments and waiting for test results before the big day came.
"We got to the hospital about 5:30 that morning and they got us all set up. We were in rooms pretty close to each other…just waiting on the doctors and surgical team to get there," she said. "They took me back first, about 7:30, and then she went back about 9:30 a.m."
Haynes said the surgery went flawlessly for both of them.
"It feels so good to be able to help her and make sure she lives a healthy life. I've had my whole life to prepare myself, it feels good to have been able to," she said.
"I feel like I haven't really sacrificed a whole lot for her to have this."
The duo agree they were close to begin with and couldn't imagine anything bringing them closer than they already were.
"I owe her a lot," Helt said of her niece.
"I got sick originally when I was nine and found out I had kidney failure right before I turned 10. I was on dialysis for three years and got a cadaver donor in 1992. Right after my 26 year anniversary in August of last year, I found out that kidney was no longer functioning to a level that I could continue to thrive on," Helt said. "So they ended up telling me I would have to start testing to be put on transplant list. I told my sisters and my mom and the next phone call I got back was Cassandra saying "Where do I sign up? What do I have to do? I want to do this for you."
Leading up to the surgery, and even the 5a.m. walk down the quiet hospital hallway, it wasn't the surgery itself that Helt was nervous about.
"It was making sure I do everything just so, that I give the kidney from her the best possibilities. Because that's my biggest fear is that if it did fail, reject or whatever, it's a waste. That's the most nervous I've been about the whole procedure, to take this from her, have it fail, and it be for nothing," she said.
While Haynes said her whole life was preparation for this moment, Helt said it took her a little longer to get used to the idea. To the weight of the gesture.
A catch in her voice, Helt said, "I was overwhelmed."
"It was a little hard for me. To take something like that from someone is a huge deal…It was a little hard, took me a little to get used to the idea. But I knew it was the best thing, but it was a little hard to accept that from her. It's such a big deal," she said.
Waking up from the procedure, Haynes was the first person on her mind.
"How's Cassandra," she asked the second her eyes opened.
Helt said life post-op has been full of love, laughter and energy.
"I feel tons better. I was at a point where I could have been on dialysis but they were trying to hold off as long as I wasn't actively feeling bad. I was feeling really crummy. Really tired. Exhausted all the time," she said. "I have energy now. As soon as my incisions quit hurting, I'm ready to start exercising again. I walk, rock climb, horse ride and sitting around because I can't move is crazy. I'm ready to get active again."