April is Donate Life Month and this story is dedicated to all those who have donated organs to save other people’s lives.
Going to sports contests and watching children play sports is what many parents do when their children are highly involved in sports. The Kennedy family was one of those families, as their son, Kody and daughter McKenzie spent so much of their time, either on a football or baseball field or in the gymnasium with basketball or volleyball. That is, until things the family could not control, changed their lives forever.
Kevin Kennedy from Minford, at age 38, went to see his family doctor. He never went to the doctor, because he was never sick. The doctor wanted to run some blood tests because Kevin’s cholesterol was high. Following this, the doctor wanted him to see, Dr. Inoshita because he was a blood specialist, as well as a cancer doctor. Inoshita ran tests including an ultrasound, where he noticed Kevin’s spleen was enlarged. He also did a CT Scan and saw some cirrhosis of his liver and it was here, that Inoshita referred Kevin to Ohio State University. However, the doctor he saw there, said it would be a long time before he’d need to see Kevin again.
This was not how it worked though because two years later, Kevin vomited a liter of blood and was sent back to OSU. Things were progressing way faster than they could believe. And by the next year, he was already starting to retain fluid. Kevin and his wife, Missy were at the doctor and Kevin asked how bad he was and was told he was where they put people on the transplant list.
And so it began, Kevin was put the transplant list for a liver. At this point, he continued to work, but he could tell he didn’t have a lot of energy and just didn’t feel well and was losing strength. The family continued to go and watch their children in their sporting events or any many other things they were involved in at this time.
In May 2014, on Memorial Day, Kevin had a lot of swelling in his legs and went to see an anesthesiologist for the transplant. However, the swelling continued and he was in the hospital for ten days. It was at this point, he was told that he couldn’t work anymore.
On Father’s Day, he was in the hospital for encephalopathy. That’s where the ammonia level gets high. “It kind of alters with your mind, like forgetting things,” Kevin said. “I wasn’t sure where I was and I couldn’t hold onto a cup, because it makes you have weak wrists like if you put up a stop, your wrists will just break over.”
As Kevin’s battle continued, in March of 2015, he was again in the hospital for a bacterial infection. “I was on 13 different antibiotics,” he said. “They couldn’t get the right one at first and they thought I could even have a fungus on my heart.” It was here that they took him off the transplant list because, with the infection, the transplant would have killed him.
Kevin battled and fought his illness and he got back on the transplant list, until April 29th, when OSU called with the great news that they had a liver for him.
Kevin said that they tell you when you are on a list, you can’t get more than two hours away from the facility, because you can’t miss it. “We had our bags packed, as soon as I was put back on the list, so we called our family and some friends and took off flying to Columbus.”
Kevin described the trip humorously. “We were driving like crazy with our hazard lights on anywhere from 75 to 80 mph because they told us we had to be there quickly,” he said. “People were honking at us and I was like, get out of the way, I gotta get to the hospital! One guy in South Bloomfield rolled down his window and said, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ and I said, “I’m getting a transplant!”
When they arrived at OSU, they rushed in and waited until nighttime. They gave him some medicine that was to kill everything in his stomach, all the bacteria. It was not long after that, they said they were sorry, but the liver was no good. No transplant for him that day.
You have to get through everything with faith, family and friends. The Kennedys reflected on some of the fundraisers that were held for Kevin and how that not just people they knew, but people from all around would come to one. “It’s pretty unique how people would come and support things like that, it was very humbling,” he said. Kevin said he told his donor’s family that you’ve touched us, but you have touched so many in the county/community where we live. There are so many that know that your husband saved my life.
Once you have received your organ, you can write a letter to your donor family, but that letter goes to Lifeline Ohio, they are like a middle man, then they proofread it to make sure you don’t say any names or anything, no religious affiliation. They forward it to the donor family to decide and then if they want they can mail a letter back.
Kevin mailed a letter after about a year. He didn’t hear back for a while, but then received a letter from the donor family and the wife said, she’d like to meet. She told them some about her husband and her children. Both families contacted Lifeline and had to fill out a release. They met at Lifeline in Columbus because of geographics.
Lifeline as the mediator had some snacks, they bring you together and get the ball rolling. The two families are now social media friends and the Kennedys told her that when she is ready to go back the last few years and see how much her husband has touched their family and the community. “I don’t know what to say to you, but thanks, because your husband saved my husband’s life,” Missy told her before they left this meeting. “but I will tell you that the night we got the call for the transplant, so many people were not just praying for our family, but also your family and you.”
The Kennedy family had been on a journey, the most amazing one, but the donor family was going through an unimaginably terrible thing in their lives by losing their dad and husband. The donor family donated his organs because they felt it was something he would have wanted them to do.
The donor had the surgery about four hours before Kevin’s surgery. The wife said there were five people with backpacks, they were the carriers for the organs. She said it was like angels, they were all just there on a mission. ‘We’re gonna go save lives’. “And that is what we want to remember, that my husband was rolling down the corridor and he was going to save lives. It was something that just put peace over them.” she said.
The Kennedy family had been through so much, especially thinking that they could lose their husband and father, but their terrible journey was only half over because not even six months went by after Kevin received his transplant, Missy became ill….Part II of this story will be in Saturday’s newspaper.
Reach Kimberly Jenkins (740) 353-3101 ext. 1928. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved