Organ donors continue to play a vital role for those in need; they may even save lives. And Hailee Stender is among their number, as she donated a kidney to her dying father John in March 2018. Following the surgery, though, Hailee couldn’t help but burst into tears.
Around two years before the procedure had taken place, John had received some life-changing news. In particular, he was told that he had stage-four kidney failure; with that, he was also put on the list for a new organ. And that revelation about John’s health brought with it a new set of challenges for the West Virginia county commissioner.
As part of his treatment, for example, John was hooked to a dialysis machine for three days each week, meaning that travel was difficult. Given the seriousness of the situation, though, his family looked to step up in a bid to help him; they subsequently discussed the prospect of one of them donating a kidney in order to save their relative.
However, John attempted to nip that suggestion in the bud, as he didn’t wish for a loved one to face the tests and surgical procedure that a donation would require. But the 70-year-old’s health continued to deteriorate – and this state of affairs would lead to a devastating conversation with his doctors.
Heartbreakingly, John’s physicians announced that he only had around two years left to live without a transplant. And with that in mind, his daughter Hailee felt the need to intervene, taking him to one side to have a frank discussion. “We had a real, raw, emotional conversation,” the 30-year-old told Inside Edition in April 2018.
As it turned out, Hailee had already taken the required tests to become a donor. And, fortunately, the results suggested that her kidney would be compatible with her father. Now, then, they only had to wait for the surgery to be booked. The date was eventually set for March 12, 2018, at the Cleveland Clinic hospital in Ohio.
Then, with her adopted sister AnaRosa filming their pre-op preparation, Hailee spoke with her father one last time before being wheeled into surgery. “Take care of Kevin,” John said to his daughter, using the name she had given the kidney in question. “You take care of Kevin,” the 30-year-old replied with a smile, as she slowly left the room.
Ahead of her surgery, Hailee was told that she would immediately feel the effects of her procedure. Despite those life-changing consequences, though, she still went through with it. Then, following the operation, AnaRosa filmed her sister recovering in a hospital bed before being helped up.
Some time after that, Hailee was taken into another room by wheelchair – and what she saw caused her to burst into tears. This was the first occasion on which the 30-year-old had seen her father since the transplant. And it appears that that welcome sight proved overwhelming for his relieved daughter.
“[Dad] looked so good,” Hailee told Inside Edition. “I got so emotional. His color was better, he was more engaged and more aware. He was laughing. He looked healthy. And that was with only two days of having a kidney. Seeing that made everything. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Meanwhile, AnaRosa hailed her sister’s generosity and compassion following the operation. “Hailee knew at some point in her life she was going to get married, and she wanted her father to walk her down the aisle,” she told the Daily Mirror in April 2018. “She is the most selfless and admirable person I’ve ever known.”
AnaRosa continued, “[Hailee] loves deeply, and her willingness to donate a kidney speaks volumes to that. Hailee is officially a lifesaver. She saved our father’s life. For our family, this is truly life-changing.” However, while the surgery was a success, John is still being closely observed by his doctors.
After all, although the 70-year-old now has a healthy kidney, the organ could still be rejected at any time – particularly in the six months after the transplant. With that in mind, John has two appointments each week with a surgeon, who keeps an eye on the dad’s progress.
Meanwhile, Hailee’s road to recovery proved incredibly tough, as her body adjusted to losing the kidney. “For a few weeks, it was intense,” she recalled to Inside Edition. “[The surgeons] cut through everything. They take some of your organs and move them over so they can get to work.”
As a result of the transplant, the 30-year-old’s lifestyle has changed significantly. Indeed, her daily diet and exercise routines were both re-evaluated following the operation in Cleveland. However, both Hailee and John have helped each other through their respective recoveries, with the father in particular showing a real zest for life now.
“We go for walks,” Hailee told Inside Edition of the pair’s routine. “The first time we walked, I couldn’t keep up with him. He was already at the end of the block, and I was just standing there. He feels blessed.”
And the online reaction to Hailee and John’s story has been largely positive – although some have questioned whether they would be as generous as Hailee had been. “She must have great love for him,” wrote one commenter, in reaction to a Daily Mail article on the transplant. “If I were her father, I would not have taken it, though, as my use could cause her problems if she suffers similar problems later in life.”
The individual added, however, “Not for me to judge anyone – I have my own faults – but [I] love to see others do care.” That sentiment was echoed by another poster, who wrote, “A wonderfully generous act of love from his daughter, but I don’t think I could ever accept a kidney from one of my children.”
Hailee seemingly has no regrets about her gesture, though. Indeed, she told the Daily Mirror, “No matter how much pain I was in, I would have done it every single time.” She added, “I’m connected to my dad with more than just by blood now. A part of me will always be with him.”
And Hailee continued, “I feel so honored I was able to help save his life.” Now, thanks to her altruism, she and her father can enjoy a few more years together yet. Perhaps he may even be the one to walk her down the aisle after all…