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Family Celebrates Two Year Transplant Anniversary

By Staff | Apr 29, 2020

Hailee says, “I did that, so he could do this!” Stephanie Axtell Photography

It is often a bride’s dream for her father to walk her down the aisle on the day of her wedding. Hailee Stender’s dream was compromised when her father, John Stender, was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney failure resulting from high blood pressure. He was told without a transplant he was likely to live only another 18 months. “That’s when my mom and I started the process to see if either of us could be donors,” said Stender. Her mother’s age was a factor that kept her from being a possible donor. However, Hailee was a perfect match.

“The doctors want to make sure that they don’t hurt one person while helping another. Recovery is hardest on the donor than on the receiver, which, if you think about it, makes sense.

“I was losing an organ that I had my whole life, and my body had to adjust, whereas my dad was gaining something,” Hailee said. The process proved to be very extensive in order to ensure the donor is healthy enough to go through with the process.

“It was quite an adventure and it was really hard, but I would do it again in a heartbeat to help my dad. When I saw him after surgery, he looked so much better that it was all worth it.” Stender says, following the donation that took place on March 12, 2018. “I would do it for a stranger, too. It’s a life changing experience – you’re saving someone’s life. And it wasn’t a tragic event or a sad story, it was my decision.”

Both of their diets have had to change extensively. “My dad has to see the doctor regularly and be monitored for organ rejection and we both have to eat healthy – nothing in cans or boxes for us!”

“It’s an emotional experience and people were feeling sad for me, but I wanted people to feel good – I was saving my dad’s life,” said Stender. You not only save a life, but you learn a lot about your body and yourself!”

Hailee was very optimistic about the surgery, however, that did not keep her family from worrying about her and the things that could possibly go wrong. “

The image of my daughter being wheeled off to that surgery room will forever stay with me. She turned and looked back at us with a genuine smile and wave and then disappeared from my sight. ‘God give me strength’ I whispered,” says Diana Stender, Hailee’s mother.

“As a parent, you would willingly lay down your life for your child, but you never imagine it would go the other way,” says John Stender. “It’s the best gift I’ve ever been given and an unimaginable sacrifice on her part. I am forever humble and grateful.”

John did indeed walk his daughter down the aisle because of the sacrifice Hailee was willing to make to save her father’s life. John serves on the Tyler County Commission, while Hailee lives in Texas with her husband.

It is truly the happy ending to a daughter’s dream, where she herself becomes the heroine.

Hailee hopes others will consider organ donation themselves. She says there are many people who need organs, yet never receive them because nothing becomes available. Who knows, maybe you could be the hero in someone else’s happily ever after.