By Scott Bidroski
Over the past 14 months, the Kelly family of Hay Springs has come a long way.
It all started on December 18, 2020 when Keith Kelly collapsed in the parking lot of his work. Kelly was returned to Rapid City with severe heart failure.
Rapid City staff stabilized Kelly but the prognosis was that he was going to need a heart transplant.
Many requirements had to be met before Kelly was added to the transplant list, but in October 2021 he went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for a checkup on his heart.
Scans showed he had developed a blood clot in his heart, and Kelly learned he would not return to Nebraska without receiving another transplant.
He was added to the transplant list and the staff worked hard to get him higher on the list.
Not two weeks later, Kelly got the call that there was a game.
“When I found out I had a matched donor I called my wife in tears. I couldn’t believe this was happening already, some people spend years on the list,” Kelly said.
His family drove all night to see him before the operation. And then the next day, Kelly went for the transplant.
The procedure began at 3:00 a.m. on November 10, 2021 and lasted approximately 6.5 hours.
The surgery was led by Dr. Mauricio A. Villavicencio Theoduloz, or Dr. V for short, and his huge team of doctors, nurses, and other support workers at the Mayo Clinic.
Keith’s transplant was a success and marked the 749th heart transplant performed by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Medical staff asked Kelly to sit in a chair and walk just 12 hours after the operation.
“I have so many amazing doctors and nurses and other people on my care team. There are probably 12 to 15 people looking after me now that I am recovering; to make sure everything is going well. Couldn’t ask for more,” Kelly said.
The recovery process has been long and continues to this day for Keith. Life as he knows it will change after his transplant.
According to Kelly, some old habits have been abandoned and he has no desire to start them again. There will be a huge change in his diet regarding food safety and preparation.
As Kelly notes, these changes are vital for a transplant recipient and for avoiding serious illness and keeping the recovery process on track.
And moving forward is exactly what the Kelly family will do, with immense gratitude.
“Everyone is asking for a second chance or a life overhaul. Well, I got mine, and so far it’s been amazing,” Kelly said.
“Of course there are ups and downs, but that’s normal after having one of the biggest surgeries ever. You have to stay mentally strong because it will test you every day,” Kelly added .
The process took the support of an army of friends, family members, medical personnel and even strangers. This is something for which Keith is very grateful.
“You definitely need a good support system. My wife has been with me the whole time and I can’t thank her enough,” Kelly said.
“Our family at home looked after our boys, among other things, which made things so much easier. It has certainly taken the effort of many, but the journey is far from over,” he added.
As of now, the Kellys are set to make their return to Hay Springs on February 4.
Keith is progressing well and looking forward to getting stronger than he was before the procedure.
Needing an organ donation was obviously never planned for Kelly. And before last year, Kelly was on the fence about the whole process.
“If someone isn’t sure about organ donation, like me, don’t be, it’s the greatest gift you can give someone,” Kelly said.
The organ donation process is extraordinary and has many layers.
According to Live On Nebraska, a new name is added to a transplant list every 10 minutes in the United States. And unfortunately, 20 people die every day while waiting for an organ transplant.
Anyone aged 16 or over can register as an organ, tissue and eye donor, regardless of age or health.
Statistics also show that 98% of Nebraskanians support organ donation, but only 58% of eligible Nebraskanians are registered as donors.
There are currently more than 100,000 people on the donor list, including hundreds of Nebraska residents.
Organ donation costs nothing at all to the family of the donor. Live On Nebraska covers all costs associated with the process.
“You might think it might not happen to you, but believe me, you never know until you’re in that situation. I know I definitely check that box; organ donor, when I get home,” Kelly added.
Individuals can register to become an organ donor on the liveonnebraska.org website. Live On Nebraska will also send individuals a registration card if they prefer this method. You can request registration by calling (402) 733-1800.
And, of course, you can always check the box when you renew or receive your driver’s license at the DMV.
Keith is hopeful of connecting with the family that gave him his second chance at life. He says it is a delicate process but he will start with a letter soon.
“I absolutely want to meet them. After all, I wouldn’t be here without their gift,” Kelly said.
“They gave me the ultimate gift, so it’s going to be so humbling to see them in person. I just want them to see it turned out okay,” Kelly added.
The Kelly family includes Keith and his wife Adriene. They have two boys, Noah who is in tenth grade at Hay Springs High School and Kyler who is in fourth grade at Hay Springs Elementary.
To learn more about the Kelly family’s organ donation journey, please visit their Caring Bridge website at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/keithkelly2.