The loyal treatment: Tonganoxie lawyer’s multi-state quest to find kidney donor leads to match with Lawrence woman
From Tonganoxie to Texas, Michael Kelly’s family spread the word to anyone who would listen — the longtime attorney was in dire need of a kidney.
His wife, Keyta, and daughter Rachel got full-sized rear-window decals explaining of Michael’s need, information about his journey and ways to help. Other family members followed suit, and soon a handful of vehicles stretched from the Kansas City metro area west to the Topeka area and south to Chanute.
The decals read “I/my brother/my husband/my dad/my brother-in-law needs a kidney. Can you help? Email me email@example.com.”
The cause also spread to Facebook, where a Topeka TV station picked up the story. That exposure helped the cause additionally.
But it was a vehicle in Texas, and subsequently Facebook, that brought the cause full-circle.
Bobbi Kelly, Michael’s sister-in-law had the decal on her vehicle in Katy, Texas.
It was a Facebook post about that vehicle that caught the eye of Deb Simmons, Bobbi’s cousin who happens to live in Lawrence.
The family also made a video about their efforts, which Simmons watched.
“It even made me cry,” Simmons recalled. “It got to the part with the little granddaughters.
“I have three grandchildren and it just kind of hit home, that he wasn’t going to see them grow up. I think that’s what drove me (to try to be a donor).”
Her own relationship with her grandfather also was more than enough incentive.
“My grandpa meant so much to me,” Simmons said. “I couldn’t imagine growing up without him.”
Michael’s daughter and son-in-law, Kaitlyn and Mark King, have three daughters, Wynni, 6, Libby, 4, and Sophie, 2. Rachel also is fostering a young boy.
A long journey
Michael was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was 9 years old.
At age 40 in 1995, he underwent kidney and pancreatic transplants. The pancreas is still working, Keyta said, but the kidney, which was from a cadaver, failed in 2003.
Keyta then donated one of her own kidneys to her husband in 2014.
As Keyta explained, kidneys from living donors usually are preferred because they last longer. Kidneys from deceased donors on average function around seven years, while live donor kidneys are around 12 years.
“People don’t always realize that it’s not a cure, it’s a treatment.”
Michael has been on dialysis since December 2015. Keyta now administers the treatments at home, previously five days a week and now four.
Kidney failure also means the body is susceptible to many other ailments. Michael has been in and out of hospitals much of the last three years.
When he was 16, he fell and severely injured his hand when it slammed through a plate-glass window.
He’s had limited use of the hand since then. He was having reduced blood flow to the hand and because of his other health issues and infection concerns, doctors removed the hand from about 2-3 inches above his wrist.
But after all of that, a kidney match has been found.
“It’s been such a long journey with a lot of disappointment,” Michael said. “I’m hopeful and anxious and excited.”
About a year into Michael’s dialysis treatment, the Kelly family received more difficult news.
What was thought to be a cold turned out to be cancer for Keyta.
“I went and got cancer in the middle of it, so that didn’t help.” Keyta said with a faint laugh.
It turned out to be Stage 3 cancer. Keyta, who also is an attorney and shares an office location in downtown Tonganoxie with her husband, would need to be making frequent hospital visits of her own.
Keyta said the family was fortunate to have so much support.
Family and friends assisted in various ways, including financially. Team Tongie, the nonprofit organization that helps community members in need due to unexpected medical hardships and other tribulations, stepped in as well.
And then there was Rachel, who manages the front desk at Kelly Law Office. Michael and Keyta are longtime attorneys who have been practicing in Leavenworth County for several years.
“We couldn’t have done it without Rachel,” Keyta said. “She stepped in and made sure the doors stayed open.”
Family, friends, even strangers stepped forward offering to donate. There were more than 30 people who applied to be a donor.
Some were frustrated they couldn’t due to whatever strict guideline prevented them: age, BMI index, family history or blood type, to name a few.
Kaitlyn and son, Garrett, as well as Rachel weren’t in consideration due to family history and blood type.
Luckily Simmons was able to connect with the family and eventually became a match.
She has been in healthcare for many years, first while serving in the Air Force and ever since serving in the military, as a certified nursing assistant.
She said everyone should consider being a donor, whether while alive or after death by indicating their wishes on one’s driver’s license.
“I’ve always thought I would be an organ donor when died. It’s kind of exciting that I can do it when I’m still living to help someone out,’ she said.
Counting down the days
What was thought to be a Christmas miracle hopes to be a fresh start in 2019 — new year, new kidney — for Michael.
He and Simmons thought they’d be at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., already.
However, this journey wouldn’t be complete without more snags.
Simmons needed knee surgery Oct. 30 and Michael had more surgery of his own Nov. 2.
He now is scheduled to have the surgery Feb. 6 at the Mayo Clinic.
Michael admitted that he won’t be completely happy until he’s in that recovery room in Rochester. It’s a reasonable feeling, considering what he’s gone through.
He said he was thankful for family, friends and the Tonganoxie community.
And above all, his spouse.
“My wife, first and foremost,” he said. “There were a couple times I thought about giving up.”
Rachel said she’s most happy about the opportunities that lie ahead for her father in the new year and, it’s hoped, for years to come — and all of those memories to be made with her foster son and her nieces.
Simmons recalled when she called Keyta with the news about being a match. Many tears were shed on both ends of the conversation.
But as the Lawrence resident tells it, the news wasn’t unexpected.
“From the day I signed up and called up — it was women’s intuition or whatever,” Simmons said. “I just always knew I was going to be a match. It wasn’t a surprise.
“I’m anxious to help him so he can get his energy back and be with those grandbabies.”