Chuck Frederick: Nursing assistant gives her kidney to save a very special patientAt St. Mary’s Children Hospital in Duluth, nursing assistants like Liz Severs care for hundreds of kids, most of them adorable, sweet and able to steal your heart.
By: Chuck Frederick, Duluth News Tribune
At St. Mary’s Children Hospital in Duluth, nursing assistants like Liz Severs care for hundreds of kids, most of them adorable, sweet and able to steal your heart.
But few like 12-year-old Ellie Olson.
“She’s, you know, she’s her. She’s Ellie. People who know her will know what I mean,” said Severs, 24. “She came in smiling and laughing even though she was super sick. And, I don’t know, we just clicked.”
Clicked? Though they’ve known each other just six months, next week, Severs will save Ellie’s life with an extraordinary gift of unselfishness that will be hard for anyone to top on this or any Christmas.
The decision was made in June, not long after Ellie was admitted to St. Mary’s with a stomachache and a fever of 100.5. Nothing too serious, right? For a “normal child,” as her mother pointed out. But Ellie was born with kidney disease. Doctors had to remove one kidney when she was little and then half of her other one when fevers and other problems didn’t abate.
Beginning in April, for 12 hours every night, Ellie was stuck inside in her room, enduring dialysis.
She was taken to the hospital because fluid from her belly, taken via a catheter used for the dialysis, was not clear after having been clear just that morning. Cloudy fluid, an oncoming fever and belly pain: all signs of infection.
During 10 days of antibiotics and around-the-clock hospital care, Ellie and Severs learned they shared a love for swimming. And texting. And Scrabble. A sixth-grader at Morgan Park school, Ellie won the board game, nonetheless.
“Because I’m the best at it,” she teased.
“Oh, I let you win,” Severs countered.
If Ellie, pictured on today’s page, looks familiar, it’s because I’ve written about her. Three times in the last two years. Her Christmas wish and her family’s improbable coming together are stories that could remind even the Grinch that dreams come true.
In addition to kidney problems, Ellie, when she was just 3, was placed into a scalding bath. Recovering in the burn unit at Miller-Dwan, she stole the heart of another medical professional, that time Toni Snickers, a surgical technologist.
Snickers and Ellie reunited three years later — when Snickers realized the man she was dating, and was about to marry, was not only an old high school classmate but also the father of the never-complaining little girl.
“The coincidence was phenomenal,” recalled Ellie’s father, Lowell Olson.
The two married and soon after Snickers noticed Ellie listed to one side when she walked. A body scan and MRI revealed her hips weren’t developing normally, causing her pain. Surgeons realigned her hip socket by removing a piece of her femur and installing three screws and a plate.
On one of the more painful days of her childhood, Ellie, then 8, visited with her family the massive holiday lighting display at the home of Marcia Hales on Park Point. Ellie made her way through a tunnel of lights. She had spotted a little plastic penguin and noticed a sign leaning against him. “If you make a wish while you pat my head, your wish will come true,” it read.
Ellie extended her hand. She whispered quietly, so only the penguin could hear: “I wish to not have pain anymore.” That night, a headache disappeared and her hips stopped throbbing, she told her mother.
Ellie is now among an estimated 70,000 people in the U.S. awaiting a life-saving kidney. That makes her story one of tens of thousands of reminders of the critical need to register as an organ donor — and then to inform loved ones of the decision so there are no doubts and no second-guessing. Every organ donor can save as many as eight lives, according to LifeCenter, an organ donor network based in Cincinnati.
At least 10 potential donors stepped forward in June after my column about Ellie’s need for a life-saving kidney transplant. Liz Severs was among them.
“I went home and I researched it. As soon as I realized I could do it, I wanted to do it,” Severs said. “It’s hard to explain. I just knew.”
The transplant center at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital had Severs complete “reams of paperwork,” she said, and undergo a medical evaluation. Also, there were blood tests, a 580-question personality test and a psychological evaluation.
“It sometimes felt like they were trying to talk me out of it,” Severs said. “I do get nervous, but it’s never, ‘Oh, gosh, I can’t do this.’ ”
For that, Ellie and her family couldn’t be more thankful.
“I keep thinking, every day, how incredible Liz is for doing this. It’s amazing someone came forward who’s so giving,” Toni Snickers said.
The transplant surgery is scheduled for Wednesday. Ellie and Severs will be in adjoining operating rooms. Everyone is praying they “click” one more time.
Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at (218) 723-5316 or firstname.lastname@example.org.