Hay Springs’ Keith Kelly receives second chance through heart transplant

Hay Springs’ Keith Kelly receives second chance through heart transplant

By Scott Bidroski

For the past 14 months, the Kelly family from Hay Springs has been on quite a journey.

It all began on December 18, 2020 when Keith Kelly collapsed in his work parking lot. Kelly was life-flighted to Rapid City with severe heart failure.

The staff in Rapid City stabilized Kelly but the prognosis was that he was going to need a heart transplant.

There were many requirements that had to be met before Kelly was added to the transplant list but in October of 2021 he made a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. for a check on his heart.

The scans showed that he had developed a blood clot in his heart and Kelly was told he would not be heading back to Nebraska without receiving a new transplant.

He was added to the transplant list and the staff did everything they could to get him placed higher on the list.

Not two weeks later, Kelly got the call that there was a match.

“When I got word that I had a matching donor I called my wife in tears. I couldn’t believe it was happening already, some people spend years on the list,” said Kelly.

His family made the trip with an all night drive to see him before the surgery. And then the very next day, Kelly went in for the transplant.

The procedure began at 3:00 a.m. on November 10, 2021 and took around 6 1/2 hours.

The surgery was led by Dr. Mauricio A. Villavicencio Theoduloz, or Dr. V for short, and his huge team of doctors, nurses, and other supporting cast at the Mayo Clinic.

Keith’s transplant was a success and marked the 749th heart transplant carried out by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

The medical staff had Kelly sitting up in a chair and walking just 12 hours post-surgery.

“I have so many amazing doctors and nurses and others on my care team. There are probably 12-15 people that take care of me now that I’m recovering; to make sure it all goes smoothly. I could not ask for better,” said Kelly.

The recovery process has been lengthly and continues to this day for Keith. Life as he knows it will change after his transplant.

According to Kelly, some old habits have been kicked and he has no desire to start them again. There will be a huge change in his diet in regards to food safety and preparation.

As Kelly notes, these changes are vital to a transplant recipient and to avoid any serious illness and keep the recovery process on track.

And moving forward is exactly what the Kelly family will do, with immense gratitude.

“Everyone asks for a second chance, or a do-over in life. Well, I got mine, and so far it has been amazing,” said Kelly.

“Sure, there are ups and downs, but it’s normal after going through one of the biggest surgeries there are. You have to stay mentally strong, because it will test you every day,” added Kelly.

The process has taken the support of an army of friends, family members, medical staff, and even strangers. This is something that Keith is very thankful for.

“You definitely need a good support system. My wife has been with me the whole time, and I could never thank her enough,” said Kelly.

“Our family back home has been taking care of our boys among other things, which has made things so much easier. It has definitely taken the effort of many, but the journey is far from over,” he added. 

As of right now, the Kelly’s are set to make their return to Hay Springs on February 4.

Keith is progressing well and is eager to get stronger than he was before the procedure.

Needing an organ donation was obviously never the plan for Kelly. And prior to this past year, Kelly was on the fence about the process as a whole.

“If someone is unsure about organ donation, like I was, don’t be, it is the greatest gift that you can give anyone,” said Kelly.

The organ donation process is an extraordinary one and has many layers.

According Live On Nebraska, a new name is added to a transplant list every 10 minutes in the United States. And unfortunately, 20 people die daily waiting for an organ transplant.

Any individuals who are 16 years or older can register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor regardless of their age or health.

Statistics also show that 98% of Nebraskans support organ donation but only 58% of eligible Nebraskans are registered as donors.

There are currently over 100,000 individuals on the donor list with hundreds of those being residents of Nebraska.

Organ donation does not cost the family of the donor anything at all. Live On Nebraska covers all costs associated with the process. 

“You may think it may not happen to you but believe me, you never know until you are in that situation. I know I’m definitely checking that box; organ donor, when I get home,” added Kelly.

Individuals can register to be an organ donor at the website, liveonnebraska.org. Live On Nebraska will also mail a registration card to individuals if they prefer that method. You can request a registration by calling (402) 733-1800.

And, of course, you can always check the box when you renew or receive your driver’s license at the DMV.

Keith is very hopeful to make a connection with the family that provided him with his second chance at life. He says that it is a delicate process but it will begin soon with a letter.

“I most definitely want to meet them. After all, I wouldn’t be here without their donation,” said Kelly.

“They gave me the ultimate gift, so it is going to be so humbling to see them in person. I just want them to see it went to a good place,” added Kelly.

The Kelly family includes Keith and his wife Adriene. They have two boys, Noah who is a tenth grader at Hay Springs High School and Kyler who is a fourth grader at Hay Springs Elementary.

To read more about the Kelly’s family organ donation journey, please visit their Caring Bridge website at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/keithkelly2.

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