Kayleigh‘s parents Josh and Desiree Kulage were searching everywhere to give their 5-year-old a new kidney.
And when she finally reached the minimum height and weight requirements to receive a transplant in October, a possible (and familiar) donor stepped forward.
Robin Mach – who is an early childhood special education teacher – had been teaching Kayleigh for over two years.
And when she discovered Kayleigh needed a kidney transplant, she “didn’t think twice” about offering up her organ.
“I just asked Desiree one day, because I knew Kayleigh really needed it, so I thought, ‘Why not try?'” Mach, 46, says.
Kayleigh was born prematurely at 26 weeks and, after spending more than 150 days in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), was diagnosed with partial blindness, a compromised immune system and failing kidneys that have required 11 hours of dialysis treatment every day, among other health issues.
Mach describes Kayleigh as a “spunky, energetic” child, adding, “It’s really fun being her teacher.”
One of the issues Kayleigh faced was finding a kidney that fit her body — as she is small for her age.
“I was so relieved and excited when I found out because Kayleigh’s kidney was coming from someone we knew,” Kulage, 34, shared.
But thankfully, Mach is petite and after three months of tests — doctors approved the teacher to be Kayleigh’s donor.
In February, Kayleigh and Mach underwent a successful six-hour kidney transplant at joint hospitals in St. Louis.
Kulage says Kayleigh has recovered well from the surgery and was “moving and grooving to go” as soon as she woke up.
“She’s an extremely resilient kid — she likes to point to her scar and show off her new kidney,” she adds.
And while she still doesn’t quite get that her new kidney came from “Miss Robin,” Kulage revealed that Mach is one of Kayleigh’s favorite people.
“She sees her as her playtime buddy,” she says. And while Mach felt sore for a few weeks following the surgery she again insists it was a simple procedure.
“I don’t think people realize how easy it is to donate [an organ], so I hope by sharing our story, more people will think about doing it,” she notes.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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