Often, we never know the impact one life has on other lives until that person is gone.
Sometimes that impact is wide spread. Sometimes that impact is limited to a few.
We never know.
Let me tell you about two special little girls.
Two little girls from Indiana. Two little girls with very similar families. Two little girls who never met, but whose lives became intertwined forever.
One little girl was born in Northern Indiana and grew up on a small farm. Her name was Kelsey. She had brown hair, brown eyes, and loved her family dearly. And they loved her as well. Kelsey was bright, giving, and caring. This little girl had a way of brightening everyone’s day. This little girl was an honor student, an athlete and the business manager for an award winning yearbook at her school. This little girl’s future looked bright. This little girl and her parents dreamed of how she would change the world.
The second little girl was born and lived near Indianapolis. Her name was Audrey. She was born with multiple disabilities and had a twin brother who was perfectly healthy. Audrey loved her family just as Kelsey did, and Audrey’s family loved her greatly. They took care of her, loved her, met her needs, which were many, and accepted her love, which was much.
On a Friday night in August of 2004, the second of our four daughters was involved in a multiple car accident on a country road in Elkhart County. She had been at an interview for a part time job at a church day care center and was on her way back into Nappanee to pick up a friend and go to the first football game of the year. Our little girl had just begun her junior year at NorthWood High School.
By the time the news about Kelsey’s accident spread through the stands at the game that night, about 75 friends had gathered with our family at Elkhart General Hospital’s CCU waiting area. Sometime around 1:30 a.m., the staff encouraged us to have people go home. We gathered in a circle, held hands and prayed.
My wife, Kathy, and I had finally fallen asleep in the waiting area of Elkhart General Hospital’s CCU around 4:00 a.m. Shortly after that, the doctor who had been taking care of our 16 year old daughter, Kelsey, woke us up to let us know that she was not doing well neurologically. Our little girl had suffered a skull fracture at the base of her skull.
When we went back to see Kelsey this time, nurses pulled up two chairs on both sides of her bed, a clear indication that we were now allowed to spend as much time as we wanted with our little girl – not just the limit of 5 minutes per hour. Kathy and I began to feel the hopelessness and helplessness of knowing our bright, loving, kind and intelligent little girl was not going to wake up.
Kelsey loved little kids and they loved her. The children at church flocked to her and she was so kind and caring with them and with her younger cousins. Our little girl talked about a career where she could help children – perhaps as a pediatrician or an elementary school teacher.
Now, to Audrey. One of Audrey’s major disabilities was that her kidneys never developed. Because of that, her body was never able to flush the toxins out of her system. At two years old, when this little girl was fussy or needing to be comforted, it would cause her pain to be held because of the toxins under her skin.
This little girl could not be held. This little girl could not be comforted. This little girl did not smile or giggle. This little girl’s life was one of nearly constant pain and discomfort. This little girl’s future was bleak.
Audrey’s condition made it such that she was unable to tolerate dialysis. Without a kidney transplant, Audrey’s life would be short and another set of parents would experience the pain and grief of the death of their little girl.
Prior to Kelsey’s accident I knew that organ and tissue donation was important in saving lives of those who needed to have a transplant, but I never knew how many people could be helped by one individual donor. I knew that skin and tendons could be used to help burn victims and in orthopedic surgeries. I knew there was a waiting list for transplant recipients, but had no idea how that waiting list worked. I knew Kelsey had signed her driver’s license to indicate her decision to register as an organ donor.
When I took all four of our daughters to get their driving permits and licenses, we discussed whether or not they wanted to register to be organ donors. Our two oldest, Emily and Kelsey, easily agreed to do so. Our two younger daughters, Mattie and McKenna, made that decision after Kelsey’s death and donation.
When the nurse, taking care of Kelsey during the night shift, was nearing the end of her shift that night, Kathy asked if anyone in Kelsey’s condition had ever made it. The nurse quickly and quietly responded, “No.” Kathy and I looked at each other across our little girl’s bed and began to have the conversation no parents ever want to have:
“How long do we hang on in the hope that a miracle occurs?”
“What about organ donation?”
“Are you ok with that?”
Kathy and I made two commitments to each other that morning. First, we would not let this tragedy tear apart our family. Secondly, if we could make anything good come out of Kelsey’s death, we would do it.
If any good were to come of Kelsey’s death, organ donation and transplantation would be the beginning of it. Knowing that our little girl had a kind and caring spirit, we knew we needed and wanted to honor her decision to help others through donation.
On a Sunday morning in August 2004, Kelsey’s family and friends gathered around her bed as the staff prepared to take Kelsey to surgery to recover her organs and tissue for transplantation.
We sang our little girl to heaven with hymns like “Amazing Grace.”
Kathy climbed into the bed with Kelsey to hold her little girl one last time.
Audrey had been on the transplant list only three days when her parents, Adrian and Lisa, got the call on Sunday morning that a kidney was available for Audrey. As Lisa tells it, she immediately got down on her knees to thank God for this miracle for their little girl, but quickly became overwhelmed with the fact that in order for this to happen, someone else had just lost a loved one.
Lisa cried and prayed to God for that family who had lost a loved one in order for their little girl’s miracle to be possible.
Immediately after surgery to receive her new kidney from my little girl, the little girl named Audrey who once could not be held and comforted, could now be held and loved to cuddle. A little girl who never smiled, now giggled with delight.
That little girl continues to amaze her doctors by surpassing many milestones the experts said she would never reach. Even more, Audrey has helped her two brothers and her sister learn and then teach others about the value and the dignity of persons with special needs.
Audrey’s parents continue to be thankful for every day they get with their little girl.
Having a child who was an organ donor does not take away the pain of the loss, but it does soften the sharper edges of the grief.
Death does not need to be the end of a loved one’s legacy. Their vibrant life and loving spirit can continue on through organ and tissue donation.
Our little girl has changed and continues to change the world through those gifts and through the ongoing memory of her friends and family with the Kelsey Mikel Memorial Foundation. Kelsey’s Foundation sponsors the, I’m Thankful Four Run and Walk, each Thanksgiving morning in Nappanee. Nearly 1000 people gather each year to run or walk two to four miles and celebrate the good things life has brought to us. Proceeds from the race fund two scholarships for graduates of NorthWood High School.
The Kelsey Mikel Yearbook Memorial Scholarship is awarded to an outstanding senior staff member of that state and national award winning publication.
The Dreams Come True Scholarship is awarded to a graduating senior who will be attending college, vocational or technical school and displays a passion for changing their world and making it better.
To date, the Kelsey Mikel Memorial Foundation has awarded over $110,000, including a special $2,000 award to a student from Rwanda who has attended Taylor University in Upland. Our little girl’s influence is going international.
We never know.