Last year, on Aug. 24, country musician Andie Kay Joyner was fighting for her life. Having been diagnosed with Juvenile Hemochromatosis Type 2A more than a decade ago, doctors in March had told Joyner she had congestive heart failure and that she desperately needed a heart and liver transplant.
Since 2004, Joyner -- who grew up in Edgewood and Wills Point, about 50 miles east of Dallas -- has toured and recorded as a member of country folk group blacktopGYPSY. Though she had just one friend sitting with her in a hospital room the night of Aug. 24, she says she felt the love of many who were fighting with her. About 20 miles away in Plano, fellow musicians and admirers had gathered at the popular music spot Love and War in Texas to raise money for her growing medical costs.
Many thousands of dollars were raised that night as Jason Eady, Cody Jinks, Nate Kipp, Brandon Rhyder, Max Stalling, his wife Heather Stalling, who is Joyner's blacktopGYPSY bandmate, and many others, performed and hosted an auction. The response from fans, as well as from artists hoping to participate, was so strong that another benefit show took place in November in Ben Wheeler. One of the benefit organizers, Matt Hillyer of local country group Eleven Hundred Springs, says the overwhelmingly positive response to his friend's condition gave him a "new perspective on the Texas music scene."
"I was very fortunate," Joyner now says about the night of the Plano benefit show in her honor.
Just days before she graduated from cardiac rehab treatment, Joyner looked back on that night as a pivotal moment. "I had a huge flat screen that had an app on it where I could watch the entire six-hour concert and interact with everyone from my hospital bed. As sick as I was, I watched every minute of it and sang along with everyone. It was an emotional, joyous night. I wanted to be there with everyone so badly."
She's fighting a rare disease. According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders, Juvenile Hemochromatosis is "a rare genetic disorder characterized by the accumulation of iron in various organs of the body." The number of people with the disorder is not known. The problems Joyner experienced with her heart and liver -- deterioration and eventual failure of the organs -- are common in people diagnosed with Juvenile Hemochromatosis Type 2A.
As is the case with many independent musicians across the country, Joyner wasn't insured when she began making regular trips to the hospital for treatments in March 2016. But thanks to the generosity and love of so many, the astronomical financial issues didn't ruin her.
In fact, by the time the "rare and complicated" transplants were needed, she was as inspired as she had ever been.
On Sept. 6, 2016, Joyner had but a few hours to live as surgeons prepared her for a rare, marathon double transplant procedure at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. It offered no guarantee of survival. In that moment where life and death hovered in front of her, she focused on the joy and hope the benefit concert had delivered.
"When I was lying on the operating table, scared, thinking I was going to die," she says. "I had a million things running through my mind; lots of prayers and lots of songs. I thought about that night of my benefit. It replayed in my mind and I saw everyone's faces there and I saw what everyone had done for me.
"I thought, 'I can't die. I can't let them do all of that for nothing.' It gave me strength."
The procedure, only the fifth of its kind in Texas, lasted for more than 10 hours. The risky operation wasn't an immediate success, as it took a few days for the new organs to settle in her body. And a few weeks later, Joyner returned to the hospital with blood clots in her leg and neck.
These days, Joyner says she's "doing great, all things considered." There have been some "bumps in the road," sending her back to the hospital on occasion, she says.
Of course, the dramatic day she was given a new chance at life via a donated heart and liver is also the day a family tragically said goodbye to one of its own.
"One year to the day of my surgery," Joyner says, looking ahead to this September, when her doctors have said she may finally be, more or less, "out of the woods," "I will be able to send a letter to my donor hero's loved ones. I've been writing them since a few days after my surgeries, while I was still in the ICU. I have been so curious about them. I pray for them every day. I try not to get my hopes up, but I hope I get the chance to meet them, because I would really love to thank them in person and learn all about this person who lives inside of me and who saved my life."
For the active, lively Joyner, who climbed Lookout Mountain in Georgia while on tour just days before she learned of her congestive heart failure in 2016, the weeks and months ahead are full of grand and less-than-grand plans.
But given that she was hours away from her death not long ago, even something as anticlimactic as going to the dentist is enough to get her riled up.
Most importantly, Joyner is thrilled to begin work on a newer passion: creating awareness of Hemochromatosis by speaking out about the vital importance of organ donation. And, without question, returning to music is also squarely in her sights.