DEEDS: Newly minted graduate wants to donate kidney
Before Kayelah Shifflet graduated from Stafford County’s Brooke Point High School and headed to the beach, she took a round of tests that had nothing to do with her diploma.
The 18-year-old had her head, heart, lungs and blood examined to see if she could donate a kidney to a loved one who needs it.
Turns out, Shifflet isn’t a match for Kevin Willis, the man who’s been her father figure for eight years and has suffered with chronic kidney disease since 2005.
But she still plans to donate, hoping that if she gives a kidney to someone who matches her blood type, someone else will donate to Willis—in a four-way swap.
“Even though I can’t give directly give to him, I can better someone else’s life,” the teenager said recently. “I can save two lives in one day, and that’s pretty cool.”
Shifflet’s attitude has amazed her school counselor.
“I get all choked up talking to her,” Marialena Bridges, Brooke Point’s director of counseling, wrote in an email. “There aren’t too many people—let alone TEENAGERS—who would do this for no other reason than to give someone a better life than her dad is able to have.”
Her family isn’t surprised. They’ve already seen how responsible she is.
Shifflet’s mother is Shannon Colon, and her biological father is not part of her life.
Colon and Willis dated in high school, married other people, then divorced them.
The two blended their families eight years ago.
Shifflet and Willis have no blood ties or even a “step” label between them, but said they don’t need it.
“She is my daughter,” Willis said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Shifflet is the oldest of the couple’s combined seven children. She takes her siblings to sports practice, cooks for them and makes sure they do their homework and chores.
That’s when she’s not at her own job, working as a receptionist at a day spa on nights and weekends.
Her mother works in administration at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Fairfax County, and Willis works for the federal government in Crystal City.
“She knows our schedules are hectic and helps out so much,” her mother said.
Willis said it would be hard for their household to function without Shifflet.
“You name it, she can do it,” he said.
Willis was medically retired from the Air Force in 2007 after his kidney disease progressed. He’s currently diagnosed with end-stage renal disease and is on the donor list.
He’s 37 and is on peritoneal dialysis, the type done at home. His kidneys are functioning at less than 10 percent, he said.
Shifflet initially asked if she could be a donor when she was 17, but was told she had to wait a year.
She’s already completed all the medical screening at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. Because of her age, officials want to do more psychological screening to be sure she’s prepared for the decision.
The National Kidney Foundation says the risks to living donors are small. Death rates are in the range of 1 to 2 per 10,000 surgeries, the foundation reported. Another 1 or 2 patients per 100 may develop an infection and need another surgery.
The foundation also said that a person accepted as a kidney transplant donor usually is healthier than the average person.
However, the Living Donor 101 website reports that donors under age 35 are at greater risk of developing kidney stones, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
Shifflet’s mother has been with her at every hospital appointment and has “let her know that if this isn’t what she wants to do, we can stop at any moment.”
The teenager said she isn’t worried about the recovery. She won’t be able to drive or work after the surgery and that part doesn’t make her happy.
She plans to study culinary arts at the Art Institute of Washington and hopes to schedule surgery this summer before classes begin.
Shifflet recognizes that donating a kidney is a big decision. She says it’s one of the risks that people take in life, like deciding to get married or taking out a loan to go to college or buying a house.
“Everyone makes big decisions,” she said, “and you never know how they’re going to turn out.”
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425