Benerd alumna’s ultimate gift: a kidney for her mother

Cierra Williams and her mother Jeannine Williams in the hospital.

Cierra Williams (right) and her mother Jeannine Williams.

Cierra Williams EDU ’18 gazes at her mother and sees a warrior. 

A warrior who was in need of help.

“In my mind, there was only one thing to do,” Cierra said. “She made my kidney, so it only made sense that I give it back when she was in need.”

This has been quite a summer for Cierra, 24, and her mother Jeannine, 53. The pinnacle came on July 10 when doctors at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center transplanted one of Cierra’s kidneys into Jeannine. 

“Thirty years ago, I had a liver transplant, which puts you on a lot of immune suppression medicines. And those can damage your kidneys,” Jeannine said. “About three years ago, I noticed that my kidney functions were starting to go down. As time went by, doctors said I should think about a kidney transplant.”

Cierra knew her mother would have qualms about her daughter giving up a kidney, so she quietly did background on possible approaches.“She’s also being tremendously modest,” Cierra said. “Between the liver transplant and the kidney transplant, she also had skin cancer and breast cancer and fought those amazingly. She is the toughest person I have ever known.”

“During my senior year at Pacific, I kind of went behind her back and applied to be a donor,” Cierra said. “I knew she would be nervous about having me as a donor. But I knew in my heart it would be me.” 

“My husband (Doug) wanted to do it, but he had kidney stones so that could not happen. Our son (Clayton, 18) was too young,” Jeannine said. “It just worked out that Cierra was a match. But the situation was difficult. We were a match, but she is my daughter.”

They went through a battery of tests and preparations over the next couple of years, including COVID-19 screenings. Jeannine was expecting a call to set up the date, but the call actually went to Cierra. 

“So, I picked the earliest day we could, July 10,” Cierra said. “In the days leading up to it, we were kind of going through things very normally until the day before the surgery. And then we had to get down to business.” 

On the day of the surgeries, Cierra and Jeannine were wheeled into pre-op, in side-by-side beds. They were next to one another as long as possible before Cierra went in first. Jeannine followed 30 minutes later. 

“The nurses were so kind and they knew we were mother and daughter,” Cierra said.

The surgeries—performed by a husband-and-wife transplant team, Dr. Nancy Ascher and Dr. John Roberts—were successful. “They are a dynamic duo,” Cierra said. 

“As soon as they told me she was awake, I waddled down to her room,” Cierra said. “I said ‘Mom!’ and she said ‘Cierra!’ And then we both went back to bed and got some more sleep.”

Mother and daughter are doing well. Jeannine was instructed to stay in the house and rest. Cierra, who lives with her parents in Oakley, has paced herself and is ready to return to teaching first grade (her third year) at River Islands Technology Academy in Lathrop.

They have been buoyed by support and love from so many people: Cierra’s sorority sisters from Alpha Phi, the school community in River Islands, random people who heard about the mother-daughter story and just had to react and others. 

“We heard from so many people and it all was so comforting,” Jeannine said. 

They also are appreciative of loving support from father and son, Doug and Clayton.

“We could not have asked them to do more. They were so wonderful,” Cierra said, adding with a glimmer, “And they were really good at making us grilled cheese sandwiches.”

Cierra is pleased she chose teaching for a career, thankful for her education at Pacific and is contemplating starting work on a master’s degree.

Cierra is not worried about long-term health implications—for daughter or mother. 

“I’m pretty healthy and I will try to stay that way,” Cierra said. “And my mother has so much energy. Even a bad day with her new kidney is so much better than a good day with the old one. 

“We have always been super close—even more so now.”