The ultimate gift: The grief of giving

When having a family, the last thing anyone expects to lose is a child. For Rob and Debbie Nelson, that nightmare became a reality on Aug. 4, 2003.

While driving home from a church youth conference, the Nelson’s daughter Kassandra, nicknamed “KayCee,” and two other passengers were hit and critically injured. All three passengers died from injuries sustained in the accident.

“When it became apparent that she wasn’t going to survive her injuries, Rob and I, my husband and I, we discussed it and KayCee had kept a journal and had written about how her favorite author had donated a kidney to his brother and she thought that was really cool to be able to do something like that,” Debbie Nelson said. “Little did we know that she would have the opportunity to donate.”

The waiting game

Hospital rules state that people must suffer brain damage in order to donate their organs.

KayCee’s head injury was so severe that within a certain amount of time, her brain would have ceased to function, her mother explained.

“That’s where most of organ donation comes from…through head injures and people don’t understand that,” she said.

However, Nelson said it is a myth that doctors and hospital staff avoid saving the injured patients if they know they are donors.

“Some people are scared to be donors because they think that they won’t do everything to save their lives because they want to get organs,” Nelson said. But she said there is a list of qualifications the doctors did on her daughter before she was able to donate.

“On Aug. 3, when they did the first test, she didn’t qualify for donation. My husband and I decided to wait a little bit longer and repeat the test, and when they did the test the second time, she did qualify,” Nelson said.

The gift of life

Although the family was sad in dealing with the loss of a daughter and sister, Nelson described the organ donation as a selfless gift.

“It’s really tough because you’re going through a lot of emotions, such as shock. You plan to bury your parents and one of you and your spouse, but you never plan to bury a child.”

With KayCee having such a rare blood type, the Nelsons knew they wanted to be able to help the people waiting.

Only 10 percent of the population has the same blood type as KayCee’s.

Although KayCee’s family had to mourn her death, the girl donated her liver and both kidneys. The family has heard about the organ recipients, but has not been in contact with any of them.

Both Rob and Debbie have had opportunities to meet different families who are either waiting for an organ or have received an organ.

“It’s an opportunity to educate people, but also to keep our daughter’s memory alive,” Nelson said.

[email protected]