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The Quiet Heros Among Us

When Crystal (my eldest daughter) was 13, she was a handful, to say the least. Oh, how I prayed for that child!

Fourteen years later, when she was 27 years old, she became my hero.

She was 27 years old when she made the decision to donate her kidney to her best friend. My daughter was inspired to do this after watching her 24-year-old friend sit through grueling dialysis sessions, and she saw that her friend was fading. (About 2/3rds of dialysis patients die within five years of starting dialysis.)

I was not thrilled with my daughter’s decision to submit to such a surgery. My first thoughts were about my own child’s health.  I talked to her father and he made a valid point.

“Rose,” he told me, “the odds of those two girls being a match are one in a million. Don’t worry about this. Chances are good that once she’s tested, it’ll all end right there.”

I was relieved.

A few weeks later, Crystal and I talked again.

“Mom, please understand,” she pleaded. “Kaycee might die if she doesn’t get a kidney within the next year or two. She’s 24 years old and has already been on dialysis for 18 months. This is something I have to do. Please support me in this.”

I sighed a motherly sigh and promised her that I’d try to be a supportive parent.

A few weeks passed when the next phone call came. “Mom, we’re a match. The doctors are just  amazed!. They say that it’s like we’re siblings. I told Kaycee that there’s a reason that we always felt like sisters. I knew we’d be a perfect match. I just knew it.”

The surgery was scheduled for April 23, 2007.

Less than five weeks earlier, I’d re-married, and now I asked my new husband to fly with me. I couldn’t imagine doing this alone.

Crystal (on the far left) with her sister Anna, Grandma Betty and cousin Laurel (1985)

Crystal (on the far left) with her sister Anna, Grandma Betty and cousin Laurel (1985)

My new husband and I arrived in Peoria the day before the surgery and spent some time with both girls. This was the first time I’d met Kaycee. I came prepared not to like her, but before meeting her, I literally begged God to open my heart and change my mind.

Kaycee was a soft-spoken, gentle girl with freckles, fair skin and red hair. The moment I laid eyes on her, I couldn’t help but love her.

Crystal took me aside and said, “A few weeks ago, Kaycee told me she couldn’t go through with this. She said that it was better for her to pass on than to take a kidney from her best friend. I told her that I wanted to do this.”

Crystal also told me a little about Kaycee’s background. She received her first transplant when she was two years old. That kidney (from her mother), had lasted almost 20 years. Since then, she’d been on massive amounts of drugs and had already endured countless hospitalizations and surgeries. A few years earlier, Kaycee’s beloved father had died suddenly.

At one point during the five-hour surgery, Kaycee’s stalwart mother stepped into a corner of the waiting room and sobbed uncontrollably. I felt a wave of compassion for this woman. How blessed I’d been to have had three healthy girls. How short-sighted and small-minded I’d been to rail against this procedure.

Here was a mother, hoping and praying that her child would live to see her 30th birthday. Tears came to my eyes.

Kasee (left) and Crystal (right)

Kaycee (left) and Crystal (right)

Soon, the surgeons re-appeared and told us that everything went very well. Within 24 hours of Kaycee’s surgery, the new kidney had produced eight quarts of urine.

“Dialysis is poor substitute for a God-made kidney,” the surgeon told us the next morning. “Kaycee’s new kidney is already hard at work, searching her body for unneeded waste and finding lots of things dialysis left behind. It’s already doing a fine job. And have you seen her? She looks better already!”

Within two months, Kaycee looked and felt like a new person. For the first time in two years, she was free to drink more than one liter of fluid per day. And no more one-hour drives to the dialysis center and three-hour waits. And no more swollen ankles and highly restrictive diet.

In retrospect, I’d have to say that, of the two girls, Crystal may have gleaned an even bigger blessing. After this event, her eyes were opened wide and she saw that one person can make a huge difference in this world and she’d been that one person. While she was still in the hospital room recovering, my quiet husband leaned toward her and whispered, “You are my hero.”

Crystal and Kaycee’s story was featured in a four-part series on a local TV news show, and inspired thousands of viewers. The reporter told me that viewer response was wonderful and people were profoundly affected by her unselfishness and pure love and generous spirit.

And I learned that our Creator gives us a few spare parts and one of them is kidneys. Most people can live a good, long life with only one kidney. And if Crystal is ever in need of a donor kidney, her name will be moved to the top of the donor list.

While convalescing, Crystal lived with my husband and me for several months and then she decided it was time to make some long-term goals a reality. She returned to college, supporting herself by working full-time as a waitress. She graduated in Spring 2010 and was hired by CMA CGM within hours of graduation from Meredith College.

I’m so proud of her for so many reasons. Yes, I invested a lot of healthy food and good effort and persistent prayer into growing those two healthy kidneys. Little did I know that one of them would be needed 26 years later to save someone else’s little girl.

To read the original news article that appeared in the Illinois press, click here.

To read more about live organ donation, click here or here.

If you enjoyed reading about Crystal, please leave a comment below! :)


Kasee and Rissle, several months after their surgery

Kaysee and Rissle, several months after their surgery.

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Please leave a comment below!


  1. Krista Baker
    February 25th, 2018 at 20:07 | #1

    What a brave and beautiful young woman!

    As someone with a friend whose life has been saved in the same manner, and watched as her health has allowed her dreams to come true, I’m reminded that it’s only because of people like your daughter, who risk so much, so selflessly.

    How proud of her you surely must be.

  2. Liz
    February 25th, 2018 at 20:08 | #2

    What an absolute inspiration.

    Your daughter is everything I strive to instill in my child: Compassion, commitment, empathy , independence and bravery.

    I have read this to my 10 year old who just recently wrote a speech about the importance of friends.

    If only the world had more of Crystal.

  3. Lori Jackson Black
    February 25th, 2018 at 20:18 | #3

    What an amazing story! A true gift that is never ending.

    The people that are touched by this go far beyond just the two girls.

    Thank you for sharing this story of a true miracle! Thank you to Crystal for her selfless sacrifice.

  4. Chris Gordon
    February 25th, 2018 at 20:59 | #4

    What a wonderful thing you did, Crystal. My husband’s uncle had to go through a kidney transplant, luckily his brother was a match. This was back in the 1980s.

    You sound like a wonderful friend and an amazing person. You appeared in Kaysee’s life for a reason and your friendship sounds like it will last a lifetime.

    Cherish it, because true friendship don’t happen very often.

    Your mother is blessed to have you as a daughter, and you are lucky to have a mother that understood your need to do this.

    You are blessed, enjoy your life.

  5. Caitlin
    February 25th, 2018 at 21:34 | #5

    What an amazing young woman Crystal is!

    It takes a very special kind of soul to be so selfless and generous.

    There is something amazing coming her way in life, good things happen to good people.

    I hope my daughters grow to be exceptional women like her.

  6. Christine M
    February 25th, 2018 at 22:59 | #6

    Life is complicated and sometimes disheartening, but then, if we wait, there are bright, generous lights out there that give hope and meaning to life and friendship.

    You are a bright light, Crystal, a giver, a kind soul.

    You care and by doing; you deserve an abundance of love to surround you.

    It’s there, you’re a contributor, and if you haven’t reaped from this selfless act yet, it’s coming towards you.

    Sometimes there are these beautiful souls made and you’re one of them. Be proud; shine brightly.

    Thank you for being someone others can look up to and emulate.

    We need more people like Crystal in the world!

  7. James Manser
    February 25th, 2018 at 23:07 | #7

    Wow! Crystal is a hero! I wish I had the strength and courage to do such a thing.

  8. Betsy
    February 25th, 2018 at 23:57 | #8

    Wow! That is huge. My oldest child is 27. He moved home at 23, after his dad died, to help me with his 4 younger siblings and the house.

    I thank God for him every day. Thinking about him having to make a decision this big, but to save another human being’s life…that is amazing.

    I’ve questioned life a lot recently, losing our last baby, my husband and then my mom all back to back, but it shows, we are all here for many reasons, and we never know what they are until they happen in our lives.

    Wonderful story. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Selina
    February 26th, 2018 at 02:32 | #9

    A very inspiring story! You are a hero, Crystal!

  10. Gemma
    February 26th, 2018 at 07:30 | #10

    I can see from Kaycee’s second photo that the new kidney was working. Her face isn’t as puffy.

    Thank you, Crystal, for living up to your name!

  11. Janet LaMonica
    February 26th, 2018 at 08:00 | #11

    I’ve known this amazing young woman for a few years now, and she has enough years ‘under her belt’ to see what a blessing she has been to Kaycee.

    As we move thru life, the hard parts can some times be overwhelming, but what we sometimes don’t think enough about is the positive influence we have had on others.

    So often we don’t even know what kind of a positive influence we have had! Happily Crystal just has to look to Kaycee for one of the many (I’m sure) positive things her life has brought to others.

    She’s a very special person!

  12. Rita Wilson
    February 26th, 2018 at 13:47 | #12

    What a dear and wonderful friend you are to Kaycee, Crystal.

    I’ve a dear friend whose daughter was born with two kidneys that do not grow. She’s been a brave soul about it and works tirelessly with the Kidney Foundation.

    When she reached 20 and still no donor was found, her mom donated her kidney to her.

    Alli was not quite as fortunate as Kaycee but she still lives a year later and is going to college but without the multiple drugs and the hope that someday a new donor will surface, she knows that her time is limited here on earth.

    It takes a selfless person to give their love to another person.

    For you that love was not only expressed emotionally but physically. You have given her a chance to live life and I can only imagine the love she has for you, her dearest and most selfless friend. Life is precious.

    It is not just measured in minutes and hours but in kindness, compassion, giving and, yes, receiving.

    You were given a most precious gift at birth and through your act. It came gift wrapped to you in all the glorious shades of the rainbow.

    Sent to you from those who helped you to grow and mature into the woman you are today. You have been given the gift of life as much as you have given that gift to Kaycee.

    I know that you will always value that life and make the most of it in the years to come.

    What wonderful things live ahead for you around the corner. Kaycee was around just one corner of your life.

    Enjoy the gift of life and love you have been given.

  13. Mark Hardin
    February 26th, 2018 at 20:37 | #13

    I had a friend named Jim that loved old houses. He was one of the reasons I bought my Sears house (The Chelsea). Crystal, that old house was how I met your Mom.

    Jim’s wife came down with Alzheimer in her late forties and in the process of trying to diagnose what was wrong with her the medical bills wiped out his life savings and cost him his home.

    Jim loved kids but had none of his own. He spent more time with my kids than my parents did. My kids loved him like he was a grand parent.

    Jim began having some problems with his kidneys and the doctors wanted to test him for kidney function.

    When they did the testing on him the test didn’t go well and it caused him to lose what little kidney function he did have. He became very ill and ended up in a coma for several weeks.

    My wife and kids were all the “family” he had. We spent every night with him until he recovered and when he did he moved into our old Sears house.

    He was on dialysis from that point on and he hated living life that way.

    Dialysis was eventually why he just gave up. He ended up in the hospital and passed away a couple days later. We thought he was going to dialysis but he had quit going months before.

    He didn’t want to spend his life that way. He loved my family but he felt he was a burden. He could not have been more wrong.

    The things he taught me about life and how to live it inspires me everyday. Although he wasn’t blood, he was just as much family to me and then some.

    Your story reminds me of my friend Jim and how easy it is to under estimate what you mean to others. It reminds me how much even the small things that you do in life can continue to touch people’s lives even if you don’t think you have mattered.

    It’s been five years since my friend died and I think of him all the time.

    God Bless you for your sacrifice.

    You are truly an angel.

  14. Susan Christopher Velo
    February 26th, 2018 at 22:36 | #14

    What a beautiful story and an amazing friendship. I hope that if I ever needed help that one of my friends would be so generous!

    God bless you!

  15. Donna Connolly
    February 26th, 2018 at 22:37 | #15

    Thank you for sharing this inspirational story and what a heroic gift Crystal gave.

    You never realize how much one life touches another.

  16. February 27th, 2018 at 00:03 | #16

    It never ceases to amaze me, the capacity of humanity.

    Stories like this restore my faith in love. Yes, I had a friend on dialysis.

    He watched his friends at the center die one by one. You saved a life from that.

    I am not sure that I could have done what you did.

    Keep inspiring us, please. Every day is a testament.

  17. Rhonda F
    February 27th, 2018 at 02:15 | #17

    What a beautiful story you shared. Your daughter is truly special, and that gift of love must reward her over and over whenever she sees or talks to her dear friend.

    I have an 11 year old niece who was diagnosed with poly cystic kidney disease before she was born. The horrific predictions.

    She may be still born, may die within hours, days, months, years. On and on. She seems to be quite healthy, other than requiring high blood pressure meds since six months.

    But in the backs of our minds, we sometimes wonder if her health will change. If it does, I hope she has a friend like your daughter (although, I’d imagine her twin would likely be a match, too).

  18. Anonymouse
    February 27th, 2018 at 07:23 | #18

    Having been a small part of the world that Crystal and her mother inhabit, it comes as no surprise to me that Crystal would be as selfless as she was when her friend needed her the most.

    Crystal learned early and well from her mother the value of love and giving.

  19. Linda B Freeman
    February 27th, 2018 at 08:14 | #19

    Those of us who have read about your incredible donation, Crystal, are stunned at your generosity.

    What a role model you are for all of us, especially me, and I’ll be 69 tomorrow, 28 February.

    You were a friend to Kaycee than, and I’m sure she still needs your friendship today.

    Just in case you find yourself facing another monumental task like the one you conquered in 2007, here’s quote to remember:

    “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke

  20. Beverley Pinkerman
    February 27th, 2018 at 09:12 | #20

    I hope if given the same chance one day I would be as selfless and generous as Crystal. I can’t help but think of the ripple effect of love that has come from this amazing gift.

    How many smiles, hugs, or kind words has Kaycee given in the years since which have helped someone have a better day.

    It’s not just Kaycee’s immediate family that received this gift, the web of simple acts of kindness must have spread far and wide by now.

    My dear cousin lost her father to kidney failure when she was just 16, this story touches me deeply.

  21. M. Burgess
    February 27th, 2018 at 09:12 | #21

    What a wonderful story. It takes an extraordinary type of bravery and compassion to be so giving to another person.

    Rosemary, you have an amazing daughter.

  22. Cathy Ringer
    February 27th, 2018 at 09:21 | #22

    What if Crystal were not there to donate that kidney?

    I’m sure that thought runs through that mother’s head at least 10 times a day. Her precious daughter was saved by a loving and giving person.

    I don’t know anyone that would make a sacrifice like that for anyone. To say Crystal was selfless is an understatement!

    What would our world be like with more Crystals?

    It would be filled with compassionate, giving, loving and honest people.
    I am so blessed to know Crystal and know the person she is. She really is all of the above and more.

    This world is a better place with Crystal in it as she shares her love and compassion with everyone she meets.

    She is a niece by marriage, but mostly she’s a niece by heart.❤️

    We Love you Crystal because you are a wonderful package of humanity, tied with a beautiful pink bow!!

  23. bfish
    February 27th, 2018 at 10:28 | #23

    Rosemary, thank you for featuring this blog again — clearly I needed to read further back in time, on your blog, as I had missed this gem.

    What Crystal did was so selfless — I hope that she realizes what a life-changer it was for her friend.

    Very few of us get to do something that so positively affects someone else’s day-to-day existence.

    And, Crystal made a huge change in you as well — your perspective on life and sharing was positively altered by her adamant decision to be Kaycee’s lifeline.

  24. Jenny
    February 27th, 2018 at 12:13 | #24

    Thank you for sharing Crystal and Kaycee’s story.

    About a year ago a friend’s mother received a new kidney. It transformed her from looking deathly ill and barely able to stand into a vibrant and active person.

    It sounds like Kaycee had a similar transformation.

    It is beyond wonderful, what Crystal did for a friend. To undergo a major surgery with the pain and longish recovery time - that is an amazing gift to give.

    Stories like this - of love and selflessness - inspire me (perhaps all of us?) to do a little more.

    As the transplant anniversary approaches, I hope Crystal and Kaycee are blessed with health and happiness.

  25. Helaina Hinson
    February 27th, 2018 at 14:22 | #25

    Crystal, you are an amazing and incredible human being.

    My husband is also alive because a family took a moment to look past their devastating loss and save someone else’s life.

    Every day you are a gift to your friend - and to the world.

    In a world that’s fast losing its compassion, it’s inspiring to discover that there are still people like you.

    I wish you good health, long life and much happiness!

  26. Jan
    February 27th, 2018 at 22:22 | #26

    This world is made up of all sorts of people, some that sit by and watch, and others that must act.

    Clearly Crystal is not one of those people who can just sit by and watch.

    Her actions and her ultimate decision to donate one of her kidneys speaks volumes about the kind of person that she is.

    Our world needs more people like her, especially in the current climate we live in.

    Best wishes to both Kaycee and Crystal and may life continue to bless you both!

  27. Cathy
    March 1st, 2018 at 09:19 | #27

    Crystal - how amazing! Such a selfless gift.

    Your mother is one of my ‘favorite people I’ve never met’. How proud I am to add you to that list.

    Your selfless act reminds us to consider how we might help others, in both big and small ways.

    Thank you for being you!

    Rose - what a blessing! A strong mother raised strong daughters. :)

  28. Linda Ramsey
    March 1st, 2018 at 18:50 | #28

    Crystal, you are an inspiration! You gave a gift few people would be willing to give. I am sure it has blessed you both.

    I am not sure I would be as brave as you were. I do hope that Kaycee is still in your life and you are both doing well. God put you in each others lives for a reason only he knew at the time.

    And Rose, you raised a wonderful, selfless daughter! You both are much stronger than you think!

  29. Anne
    March 3rd, 2018 at 22:29 | #29

    Crystal, I just re-read this blog and thought of you and your mom.

    You are two strong women, whether you feel that way right now or not.

    Your selfless sacrifice for your friend Kaycee shows your inner strength and courage.

    You can draw on that strength and on the love of your mother during dark days.

    Be gentle with yourself, and be well.

  30. Jenny
    March 8th, 2018 at 17:13 | #30

    I heard on the radio this morning that it is Kidney Day.

    It reminded me of Crystal and the wonderful gift she gave Kaycee.

    It is heartwarming to know such generosity exists in the world. I wish you both health and happiness.

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