Our Special Angel

My greatest fear after Kristen’s passing was that she would be forgotten.  The 13-year-old who danced, played the violin, quoted Shakespeare in everyday conversation, who sat nervously in a Paris restaurant, practicing in her head, so that she might order, by herself, in French.  A young girl who, even when ill, remained in perpetual motion: writing stories, poetry, designing costumes and recreating Gene Kelly’s choreography.  Then her story stopped suddenly.  Completely.Moments after we were told of her death, Kristen spoke through me, “We need to talk about organ donation.”  I was still in shock, but the words came from my mouth.  This is what she wanted.  We’d actually had a conversation about donation at the dinner table one night.  I never thought I’d be in a position to carry out her wishes.

The gift was given.  Adhering to the integrity of her life and spirit, a gift of purity and unconditional love was offered in compassion to an unknown recipient.  In silence and with reverence we had to release a part of her completely.

Of the three lives she saved, the one I carried closest to my heart was Alfredo.  He was the one I thought of when grief threatened to drown me.  Eight years old at the time of his transplant, he and his twin brother were born with renal hypodysplasia, a condition where the kidneys don’t grow with the pace of the body.  The kidneys are unable to do their job and the body fills with toxins.  As both boys became more ill, the family members were tested for organ compatibility.  The only match in the large family was the boys’ father.

A parent’s nightmare: one father with a healthy kidney to give and two gravely ill children.  And what of the bond between twins?  At eight years old, how do you watch a mirror of yourself die?  Alfredo’s brother, Jorge, became more critically ill and he received his father’s kidney.  Alfredo’s condition worsened as they prayed for a donor, knowing that someone was going to have to die before he could get well.  Alfredo was close to death.  Again, his parents were emotionally torn in the reality of transplantation.  Kristen’s donation came at the eleventh hour and Alfredo’s life continues.  The boys’ transplant surgeon said the match was perfect.
The death of a child is very insular.  You feel as though no one can understand the scope of a loss where all hopes and dreams for the future are gone in one brutal moment.  There will be no more awards, no graduations, no more opening nights.  Kristen, her dad and I will never see Italy together, we’ll never be in Paris or the Rockies again, and we’ll never know how her stories turn out.  We’ll never be anyone’s grandparents.  Everything stops with us.  Everything, it felt, stopped on April 21, 1996.

Two years later, after watching her friends from the Nevada Dance Academy perform in her honor at the California Transplant Donor Recognition Ceremony; we sat talking to Peter and his wife, Natalie.  Peter was in his fifties when his liver failed in a very short period of time.  Kristen’s donation saved his life.  At one point in the conversation, he took my hand and placed on his right side, just above his/her liver.  There are no words expansive enough for that moment.  Then we were told someone wanted to meet us.  I turned and this energetic small boy stood in front of me, radiant and smiling, with deep brown eyes.  It was Alfredo.

Kristen had a very broad definition of family, owing more to her effusive heart than her status as an only child.  Her family is more substantial now than even she could have dreamed.  Her story is now woven into the family albums of three very diverse families.  The gift has come home.  I no longer worry that Kristen will be forgotten.

The cycle of love never ends.

This article was written by Kristen’s mom Annie Norris.

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