MART, Texas — Many small cities across Central Texas are more than just tight-knit communities, they become families. Mart, Texas is an example of just that, especially for Nikkey Rush Freeman.
Freeman moved to Mart from Georgia in the early '80s and graduated from Mart High School in 1988.
"Being a Mart Panther has been the biggest blessing of my life," Freeman said.
Since moving over 30 years ago, Freeman's two children also graduated from Mart, allowing her to make long-time friends through the school and athletic programs.
About 10 years ago, Freeman was told by doctors her kidney numbers were off, something that did not come as a surprise.
"They don't know why our kidneys fail but my mom died of renal failure, my aunt has been on dialysis for over a decade and their father died of renal failure," Freeman said.
It wasn't until about three years ago that Freeman was put on dialysis and on the list for a kidney transplant, which could take up to eight years. With kidney failure running in her family, no one blood related could be a living donor.
"I know of about 10 people that got tested, but it didn't work out," Freeman said. "We didn't even get to the point of drawing lab work for any of them."
In April, Freeman got a call that she thought was going to change her life.
"They told me there was a cadaver kidney for me and I went into surgery," Freeman said. "But then they found out the kidney wasn't viable;, that was hard. But we kept saying 'God's timing not ours, God's timing not ours.'"
It turned out God had other plans. Months after the failed transplant, Freeman's friend Jerry Hoffman found out she wasn't a match for her brother's transplant, but was a match for Freeman's. The two had known each other for years thanks to Freeman's daughter Savannah, who Hoffman coached at Mart.
"I spent my career coaching and teaching because I wanted to impact young peoples lives and make a difference," Hoffman said. "So this is another way I can make a difference in someone's life."
Jerry and her husband Kevin became like second parents to Savannah Freeman and someone that the Freeman's have gone to for support time and time again.
"When my health really started getting bad I met with Jerry and said pretty much if this doesn't workout I need to know you and Kevin will be there for Savannah no matter what," Freeman said. "So for her to be the one donating life to me is just indescribable; my love for them is immeasurable."
The story doesn't end here.
After months of testing and lab work, it was finally time to get a date on the calendar for the transplant.
"One of the dates was January 13, which happens to be Braeden Freeman's birthday," Hoffman said. "Nikkey lost him a few years back in an accident so it makes this even more meaning full that that date was available to do it."
That was a sign to Freeman that all of this was indeed on God's timing.
"This was his way of saying it's going to be okay and 'You got this mom,'" Freeman said.
After close to three years on dialysis Freeman will no longer be tied to a machine, but tied to Mart, Texas forever.