The Gift of Life

By: Sarah Platt Email
By: Sarah Platt Email

It goes without saying, losing a loved one, especially a child, is the worst tragedy anyone can face. In an instant, three years ago, the life of one Wakarusa family changed forever. 16-year-old Kelsey Mikel was killed in a car crash. But in her death, Kelsey gave the gift of life. Five people received her organs. The Mikel family is now preparing to meet one of the organ recipients later this week.

A memory garden and waterfall sit beside the Mikel family home, a peaceful place where the family can remember their daughter and sister, Kelsey Camille. She’s described as an energetic teen, involved in school, and a girl who had a lot of friends. “What do I miss the most? Probably just spending time with her, talking with her. She was a great conversationalist and a great arguer,” says Kelsey’s father, Mark.

On the evening of August 20th, 2004, a sudden car accident took Kelsey from their world. “She was on her way to pick up a friend to go to the Northwood-Jimtown game that evening,” says Mikel.

The loss leaves Mark and Cathy Mikel and their three daughters with an emptiness that can't be filled. “The pain has softened, but you'll always have a hole in your heart,” says Cathy.

“I'm starting my new job, new phase of my life and Kelsey would have been there to watch me do that,” adds Emily, Kelsey’s older sister. But the teen’s legacy lives in. Five people have received her organs; her lungs, kidneys, pancreas, and liver. Five-year-old Audrey Babcock is one of those people. The Mikel family will meet Audrey and her parents later this week.

“I know it's going to be good, but I know it's going to be very hard also,” says Cathy. “I'm very nervous about it, but I think the biggest thing for me is that it's going to be another step in the healing process, to see some tangible evidence of that gift she gave to others,” adds Mark. That gift is also returning comfort to the Mikels in their time of grief. “Another step of ‘I went through this loss, but this family didn't have to go through this loss,’” says Emily.

Mark and Cathy Mikel are volunteers with the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization (IOPO).

Last week, the Mikel and Babcock families allowed us to be a part of their very personal moment, in order to make a very public statement about the importance of organ donation. The Mikels tell us they'll always struggle with the loss of their daughter, but they say it brings them peace to know Kelsey's death gave new life to a young girl, real and tangible proof that something good came from their tragedy.

Kelsey’s death has left her parents, Mark and Kathy, and sisters, Emily, Mattie and McKenna with a deep loss that can never be replaced. On Kelsey's death bed, the Mikels decided to donate her organs and tissue. “We were both 100% in agreement, that if the situation was what we thought it was, than we wanted to be able to donate any and all tissues and organs that were available,” says Mark Mikel.

Anticipation was high, as the Mikel family prepared to meet Audrey Babcock, the 5-year-old recipient of their daughter's kidney. “Anticipation,” says Kathy, “Knowing I'm probably going to fall apart when they get here,” she adds.

At the families first glimpse of little Audrey, tears start to fall down Kathy Mikel’s face. Formalities quickly turn into a flood of emotions. "Hi sweetheart, you look so good," says Kathy to Audrey.

“Thanks for doing this, this is nice,” adds Mark Mikel.

After a few minutes alone, both families sat down to talk about their unique meeting. “I immediately saw those two mothers connecting on such a deep level, with their feelings for each other,” says Mark.

“I just lost my daughter and seeing Audrey and her family, it just overwhelms you,” adds Kathy.

“It was kind of a mom to mom hug, not ever understanding the pain a mom would go through to lose their child,” says Lisa Babcock, Audrey’s mother. It's been about three years since Audrey received Kelsey's kidney. “It was a Sunday morning and I just remember crying for the family of whoever, that Audrey was going to get her kidney,” adds Lisa.

Due to birth trauma, Audrey is developmentally delayed. Doctors weren't sure she'd live past her first six weeks. She also has hearing and vision problems, but her parents say life has improved dramatically with her new kidney. “Without the kidney transplant, there is no way she could have come as far as she has,” says Adrian, Audrey’s father.

Mark and Kathy say they find comfort knowing their daughter's death helped another family. “I always thought it was the right decision, but it gave me further proof that it was,” says Kathy.

“If you asked me if I could do it all over again, sure, I'd love to have my daughter here,” says Mark. Since I know that isn't a reality, this is as good as it can get, in terms of seeing a family experience joy and life with their daughter.“

“I think over the past three years, I've thought about that quite a bit. That somebody else’s pain was such a blessing to us,” adds Adrian. A bittersweet blessing that gives one family life and another a sense of peace. “It was so great to see the light and the life that I missed for so long, for my sister in another little girl,” says Emily Mikel, Kelsey’s sister. “Just to help out another family, that's the personality Kelsey had. She was kind and giving, and she still is.”

After the two families met, they spent Friday evening in Indianapolis for the 20th anniversary of the Indiana Organ Procurement Organization. At that event, they met other organ donor families and recipients.

There are several ways that you can become an organ donor including signing your driver's license. You can also visit some of the websites listed below for more information. Also, it's important to share your wishes with your family.

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