Jim Ott's Blog

This blog is a collection of columns I've written for Bay Area News Group newspapers serving the East San Francisco Bay region.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Pleasanton girl graduates despite life-threatening challenges

This column appeared in the Tri-Valley Times in June 2014. 

Before this graduation season fades from memory, I want to bring longtime readers of my column up to date on a Pleasanton girl I’ve written about on occasion over the years. 

The girl is my daughter, Kelsey. 

Because her birth in 1995 was healthy, we would never have predicted the difficult times that lay ahead for our little girl. It wasn’t until she was two that we had any indication anything was wrong. Kelsey developed an enlarged heart from mitral insufficiency, a leaky heart valve.

But the weak valve was just one challenge. She was also diagnosed with Jeune Syndrome, a condition that would forever make her shorter than her peers. 

Soon x-rays of Kelsey’s chest revealed that her bronchial tube was being crushed by her heart, and most of her lungs were filled with fluid. So the decision was made for Kelsey to undergo open-heart surgery, the day after her third birthday. 

I’ll never forget as the operation began forming a prayer circle in the waiting room at Children’s Hospital Oakland with Kelsey’s grandparents and other family members. The surgeon unlocked our brave little girl’s heart, peered inside, and worked for several hours, successfully repairing the valve. 

For several years, our lives returned to normal. Kelsey loved playing with her older sister, and she developed a keen sense of compassion and a kindness toward others.

But soon her spine began to curve as she developed scoliosis. Painful surgery and the insertion of titanium rods at age 10 helped to straighten her back and even made her stand a little taller. 

Despite these difficulties, Kelsey kept up with her school work and progressed with her classmates through the Pleasanton school system.  

But as if her genetic condition and the two traumatic surgeries were not enough, her kidneys began to fail at age 13. Sadly, because young drivers do not sign up in sufficient numbers as organ donors, the waiting list for organs often sentences people with kidney failure to years of dialysis, but Kelsey was fortunate. 

In an act of love and kindness, a generous savior stepped forward to make an incredible difference in Kelsey’s life. Theresa Harris, Kelsey’s aunt, was a match for the kidney donation.

So it is fitting that Theresa attended Kelsey’s high school graduation earlier this month to celebrate Kelsey’s acceptance into Sonoma State University and her many achievements despite so many life-threatening challenges.

My daughter’s story of perseverance is just one example of the resilience and beauty of our children who graduated this season. So many students face difficult challenges as they navigate the requirements of our educational system and of becoming a teenager and a responsible adult.

In her own words posted on her blog, Kelsey says it best: “We are taught to help each other from the time we are in kindergarten, and it is a habit that we must remember. An act of kindness every day from all of us can make an incredible difference in the world.”

 Theresa Harris and Kelsey Ott at Amador Valley High School graduation

June 2014

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