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Blessings in the face of adversity

Brothers donation of kidney allows Vicky Kelly to live her life


by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: CLIFF NEWELL - After receiving her kidney transplant from her brother, Vicky Kelly says she can appreciate the simple joys of life. Such as the lovely garden of her Lake Oswego home.In Vicky Kelly’s family, love runs deep. Because of this love, the Lake Oswego woman can go on living a life that is rich and dear although she has faced many years of serious illness.

In September, Kelly received a kidney from her brother. Thirteen years ago, she received one from her father. In the face of extraordinary challenges, she has much to be grateful for.

“I’ve grown so much and learned so much,” Kelly said. “I’ve learned not to be so hard on myself and be so judgmental of myself. I take joy in the simple things of life, and I’ve reached a point of acceptance with everything that has happened to me. I’m so grateful for the gift of life.”

On Oct. 18, Kelly celebrated her one-month anniversary with a new kidney. Her future, which once looked so short, now seems much more promising.

“Now, with this new kidney, I have an opportunity for a second chance on life,” Kelly said. “I’m only 51 years old and with a new, good, strong kidney I think I can live 51 more years.”

She has her brother, Gary Petersen, 55, of Arizona to thank.

“Bless his heart, he did it,” Kelly said. “But it wasn’t easy for him. Gary has his own life and challenges. We have always had a very close relationship.”

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Vicky Kelly gives a big smooch of gratitude to her brother, Gary Petersen. He saved her life by donating a kidney.It was 24 years ago that Kelly called upon Petersen and the rest of her family for intense support when her life suddenly took a sharp U-turn.

“When I was 27 I was diagnosed with lupus,” Kelly said. “I was single, I had graduated from college and I was just starting life out when I got this horrific disease.

“It attacked me emotionally, physically and financially. Lupus affects your kidneys and lungs, and I was on life support for 21 days. Later, my kidneys shut down and I was on dialysis for six months. Miraculously, my kidneys started functioning again. That never happens!”

This reprieve allowed Kelly to get on with her life. In 1994 she married Craig Kelly, who she calls “an amazing man, very strong and loving.” The couple went on to adopt two daughters, Grayce and Christine. However, her kidneys began to slowly regress, and in 1999 doctors advised her to have a kidney transplant — if she could find a living related donor. She turned to her dad. Kelly’s life was saved, but it was filled with struggles in the coming years. One of her biggest opponents was herself.

“I was trying to be super mom,” Kelly said. “I had tremendous challenges with energy and managing young children. I finally learned that it’s OK not to try to do it all.”

Then, once again, her kidney stopped working. Again, her family answered her need for the donation of a new kidney. Both her brother and sister immediately volunteered to help.

“I just told my family about it and both my brother and sister said, ‘I’ll do it.’ That is just the kind of family we are,” Kelly said.

The commitment to donate a kidney is huge. The process for the operation started a year and a half ago, when her siblings were put through a series of tests. On initial tests, her brother seemed like the most positive candidate to donate a kidney.

To volunteer, he had to undergo a lengthy emotional and physical evaluation — a process made more difficult because he lived far away.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO  - The Kelly family of Lake Oswego, from the left, Grayce, Craig, Christine and Vicky.Finally, the transplant operation was scheduled way in July. Kelly’s family all gathered at Oregon Health & Science University for the event. Then everything fell through. The results of a last moment test caused the surgery to be postponed.

“We were all devastated,” Kelly said. “It was a big blow. But we had to put our faith in the doctors. Two months later we rescheduled the date, and back Gary came.”

Going into the operating room on Sept. 18, Kelly said, “I was very relaxed, positive and hopeful. I’ve been through so many medical procedures. This is what I know. I went in trusting that God would take care of me and he did.”

This time, all went well. Sometimes Kelly’s life gets harder, but it also gets better. She is a volunteer with Donate Life Northwest — an organization that provides education about organ, eye and tissue donation. Her second time around as a kidney recipient has made her determined to tell her own story and to help other people who need organ transplants.

“I want to make others aware of the need,” Kelly said. “It’s the awareness that makes a difference. There are other people who need kidneys and they don’t have the support that I had.”

The entire experience has left Kelly wiser and happier.

“My lesson is this — life is a journey. Try to take it one day at a time. Everyone has their crosses to bear. Don’t judge yourself. Just do the best you can and be thankful every day for your blessings.”

For more information about Donate Life Northwest, visit donatelifenw.org.