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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