Gospel singer undergoes lifesaving kidney transplant after losing mom, 2 sisters who battled chronic kidney disease

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Tammy Edwards has for 30 years carried on a legacy of music in her family as the lead singer of the gospel group Tammy Edwards and The Edwards Sisters.

“Music has saved my life,” Edwards told “Good Morning America.” “It’s definitely saved me.”

Nearly a decade ago, in 2015, Edwards, of North Carolina, became part of another family legacy that changed the course of her life.

Edwards, then in her late 40s, was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, a diagnosis also given to her mother, Diana, and two of her sisters, Tonette and Tina, during their lifetimes.

Chronic kidney disease is a condition in which a person’s kidneys have become damaged over time and can no longer filter blood as they should, leading to an increased risk of other health problems, including heart disease and high blood pressure, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

The disease is one that affects more than 37 million adults in the United States, according to the institute.

Yet it is exceedingly rare for chronic kidney disease to affect four members of one family across two generations, according to Dr. Cynthia Christiano, chief of the division of nephrology and hypertension at ECU Health, where Edwards is treated.

“I’ve never seen a family with as many members affected with chronic kidney disease as the Edwards family,” Christiano said. “We do know this disease runs in families but this is an unusual case.”

For Edwards, having chronic kidney disease took over her life.

For several years, the singer would go to a local clinic four days a week to receive dialysis for four hours a day. Oftentimes, she would do so with her mother at her side, also undergoing dialysis.

PHOTO: Tammy Edwards, left, is pictured undergoing dialysis alongside her mother.

Tammy Edwards, left, is pictured undergoing dialysis alongside her mother.

ABC News

Edwards, a mom of two, said the fact that she did not have one working kidney consumed her thoughts as well.

“Anytime I would look at a person, I would look through them and see their kidney. Isn’t that crazy?,” Edwards recalled. “I’d be like, ‘They have a kidney, and their kidney works. Mine doesn’t.'”

Over the course of her own battle with chronic kidney disease, Edwards suffered devastating personal losses.

PHOTO: Tammy Edwards prays with family members and friends before undergoing a kidney transplant at ECU Health.

Tammy Edwards prays with family members and friends before undergoing a kidney transplant at ECU Health.

ABC News

Edwards’ sister Tina, the first in the family to be diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, died due to the disease on her son’s birthday in 1990.

“It was heartbreaking,” Edwards said of the loss, adding, “It seems like yesterday. I miss her so much.”

In 2020, Edwards said she and her mom survived severe bouts of COVID-19.

But just months later, Edwards’ sister Tonette, who just years prior had undergone a successful kidney transplant, became ill too. She was hospitalized and died in February 2021, according to Edwards.

Just months after the death of her second daughter, Diana, Edwards’ mom, died too.

“When Tonette passed away, my mom just couldn’t take it,” Edwards said. “It was very heartbreaking for her. That was her second daughter that she had lost.”

Around the same time that Edwards became the sole member of her family living with chronic kidney disease, she began to make changes to save her own life.

She underwent weight loss surgery and got in good enough health that she was able to be placed on the kidney transplant waiting list, joining tens of thousands of other patients hoping for a potentially lifesaving kidney transplant, according to data from the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

In November 2022, Edwards got the phone call for which she had been waiting. Doctors in North Carolina had found a kidney match, and transported the kidney across the state to transplant it into Edwards.

PHOTO: Tammy Edwards is pictured after undergoing a kidney transplant at ECU Health.

Tammy Edwards is pictured after undergoing a kidney transplant at ECU Health.

ABC News

After the successful transplant, Edwards was able to go home with her daughter and son, free of dialysis and ready to live her life.

“Instead of giving up, we had to hold on and be strong. The good news had to come our way,” Edwards said, referencing one of her gospel group’s most personal songs, titled, “Good News.”

Nearly two years after undergoing the transplant, Edwards is able to perform again with members of Tammy Edwards and The Edwards Sisters.

PHOTO: Tammy Edwards, second from left, is pictured with the current members of Tammy Edwards and The Edwards Sisters.

Tammy Edwards, second from left, is pictured with the current members of Tammy Edwards and The Edwards Sisters.

Bobby Barnhill

She said her health continues to improve.

“Since the surgery, I’ve been doing well,” Edwards said. “I’m just continuing going to my doctor visits and keeping up with everything the doctor says, and having my faith.”

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