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Transplant patient’s 20th anniversary was all of 7,300 ordinary days

IU Health University Hospital

Transplant patient’s 20th anniversary was all of 7,300 ordinary days

It’s been 20 years since Sarah Kelsey received a kidney transplant. There were many ways she could have celebrated that milestone. She chose to focus on enjoying the ordinary things in life.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

Life is often measured by special occasions and extraordinary events. For one transplant patient, those moments are measured by every day she wakes up, feels healthy, and has the assurance that her kidneys are functioning.

All thanks to a family friend who donated her kidney 20 years ago.

“The point of Aug. 30, 2001 was all of the 7,300 ordinary days since - the ordinary, every day, day-in-and day-out things that make up a life,” said Sarah Kelsey, who turned 32 in September. A week before her 12th birthday she received her new kidney from Susan Botts, a special education teacher from Sellersburg, Ind.

One of the first pictures Kelsey and Botts took together was when Botts came to visit Kelsey on her birthday. More photos followed in the years to come: Botts attending Kelsey’s 2008 graduation from Christian Academy of Indiana, Kelsey receiving her Anderson University nursing pin from Botts in 2012, and Botts and her husband joining the Kelsey’s 2013 wedding procession in New Albany’s Graceland Church.

Turns out, Kelsey’s kidney donor has been a big part of her life since the day of her transplant. This year, on the 20th anniversary of receiving her new kidney, Kelsey wrote: “Today I had plans to get outside and be active and celebrate, but instead I did lots of chores, paid bills, played with my Golden retriever puppy, listened to music, drank extra coffee, texted with friends and baked a cake.”

Yes, it was a big day. But it was also a day to celebrate the ordinary things in life, she said.

“New kidneys are for giving my life away, reflecting the gospel of Jesus and doing things that echo into eternity - and also things that, really, in the grand scheme of things, don’t echo into eternity,” she wrote. “New kidneys are for eating good food, picking blackberries on my grandpa’s old farm, listening to music that moves me, traversing over mountains and gaping at God’s creation. They are for working long hours until my legs, my heart and my brain all ache,” she wrote.

She has said many times, “every day is a gift.” That gift came from an unexpected person.

Kelsey became a patient of Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health at a young age. She was born with kidney problems. A native of New Albany, Ind. she was originally in the care of a Louisville Hospital.

“They told my parents then that I would probably need a transplant one day. When my urologist moved to Riley Hospital we followed him and decided that IU Health was the best place for my transplant,” said Kelsey. She made it to the age of 11.

On the day she was scheduled to have a procedure to insert a catheter in her stomach in preparation for dialysis, she received a kidney transplant instead.

Bott was familiar with Kelsey’s family through church. When Kelsey’s father asked for prayer for a new kidney for his daughter, Botts said she couldn’t stop thinking about becoming her donor.

“Her blood type was B positive and I didn’t even know my blood type until I called my doctor,” said Botts, 57. Married to Marc Botts, she has a daughter, 28, and a son, 24. Her son was four at the time.

“My children were in the same school with Sarah and so it really touched me. What if one of my kids needed a kidney? When people asked, ‘how can you do that?’ my response was, ‘how can I not do it?” said Botts.

Kelsey was in the care of IU Health transplant coordinator Mary Lynn Subrin. Surgery was performed at Riley Hospital where she was in the care of Dr. Mark Pescovitz, a transplant surgeon who was tragically killed in a car accident in 2010.

Kelsey named her kidney, “Bertha.” She said it seemed practical to give her new kidney a name since they’d be spending a lot of time together. On the day of the 20th anniversary of her transplant Kelsey called Botts to give an update on “Bertha.” Both are well and happy.

And while Kelsey doesn’t measure her life in “big events” there have been several.

She met her husband, Daniel, when they both served as resident assistants while attending Anderson University. Kelsey originally had aspirations of pursuing a career as a sport journalist but things changed after her hospitalization. As a teen, her unit at the Louisville hospital was shared with young cancer patients.

“I remember thinking how unfair it was the children should have cancer,” said Kelsey. One of the nurses encouraged her to consider a career in nursing but she wasn’t ready as a teen. Later, as a high school senior, she thought about nursing again, completed her degree and started her first job with the same nurse who encouraged her career choice in the beginning.

She’s been a nurse for nine years and eight of those years have been spent in pediatric hematology and oncology. The other year she worked in a Chicago hospital where many of those in her care were pediatric transplant patients.

“I took the opportunity to share my story with the patients. Just seeing them and their complications made me so grateful that I had smooth sailing,” said Kelsey. She now works at a pediatric infusion center at a Dayton, Ohio hospital.

“New kidneys are for helping others – for fighting to find the hard places a little less dark,” said Kelsey. “New kidneys are for doing things that scare me like riding horses and mountain bikes, skateboards and snowboards,” she said. “I want to be brave and kind and strong and fierce and free. But mostly, I want to live unafraid. I want to live thankful,” she said.

“It’s amazing to see Sarah so full of life,” said Botts. “She’s the ultimate giver so it’s like the gift I gave her just keeps giving back to others.”

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