When Freeporter Sharima Hyland attended St. John’s University in 2004, she got the opportunity of a lifetime when the college’s gospel choir, in which she sang, invited her on its mission trip to Africa.
The trip offered Hyland an opportunity to help others, but when she returned, her health suddenly deteriorated, and about a year later, she learned that she had lupus, a disease that occurs when the body’s own immune system attacks the tissues and organs.
In Hyland’s case, the lupus targeted a kidney, and for the past six years, Hyland, 36, has needed a kidney transplant.
Despite the years of hardships caused by her illness, Hyland and her family never stopped praying or lost hope, and their faith was rewarded on Feb. 1, when she underwent a successful kidney transplant at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, N.J.
“We’re very excited and happy to move on to the next chapter of our lives,” said Kareem Hyland, 35, Sharima’s husband.
“We waited and prayed for this blessing,” said Tiffany Howard, her sister. “This has weighed a lot on our family.”
Although they grew up in the Village of Freeport, the sisters lived outside the Freeport School District, and attended school in Roosevelt, where Sharima met and fell in love with Hyland at Roosevelt High School.
As kids, Howard said, she and her sister were very devoted to their Baptist faith, regularly attending church with their family at Mt. Ollie Baptist Church in Brooklyn. It was her commitment to her faith that spurred Sharima to join the gospel choir at St. John’s and go on the mission trip, Howard said.
After returning from the mission and learning she had lupus, Sharima took the diagnosis in stride. She learned to live with the joint pain and discomfort that the disease caused, but after she became pregnant with her son, Jordan, her health took a turn for the worse.
Jordan was born prematurely in 2012 and weighed little more than 2 pounds. While Jordan recovered, Sharima’s health declined as her kidneys started to fail.
In 2017, she began receiving home dialysis treatments, which take 10 hours each. This limited her from enjoying many activities with her family, like swimming, which her son had wanted to do with her for years.
“Every day is just a fight to live,” Sharima said during a fundraiser at the Coral House on Jan. 31.
Although she was scheduled for a transplant a few years ago, the surgery was canceled when the donor backed out, much to her and her family’s dismay.
New York consistently ranks at the bottom of state-by-state rankings of the percentage of residents registered as organ donors.
Sharima was on the transplant waitlist at both Northwell Health, in Manhasset, and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and Robert Wood Johnson informed her that she was suddenly fourth on their list for a viable kidney on the morning of Feb. 1.
Sherima and her husband drove through the snow for three hours to get to the hospital when they got another call saying the surgery might not pan out. Rather than driving back in the worsening nor’easter, Howard convinced her sister to take up lodging near the hospital in case something changed.
The decision turned out to be a saving grace, as the hospital approved the operation that night.
Kareem said the operation was a success, and while Sherima recovers in the hospital’s intensive care unit, he is busy preparing their home for her return. Since transplant surgery is extremely taxing on the body, Kareem, a letter carrier, will be on leave from his job to take care of his family.
Howard started a GoFundMe page to support her family’s finances through this difficult period of recovery. So far, the page has raised more than $5,500.
“It goes to show that there are people out there who love her and want her to feel better,” Kareem said. “We hope our story can inspire people to give to others and to sign up and become organ donors.”
“My mom can go swimming with me now,” added Jordan, eagerly waiting to enjoy his new life with his mother.
To give to the GoFundMe page, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/sharimas-kidney-transplant.