Linda West broke down as she embraced Jeanne Schreiber at the Golden 1 Center on Tuesday, meeting for the first time the woman whose life was saved by her only daughter’s kidney.
“I guess I should let go now,” she said, holding tight to Schreiber who also was teary eyed.
On New Years Eve, two months before she died, Kaylee West told her family that if anything were to happen to her, she wanted to be an organ donor. On Feb. 6, 2011, the 24-year-old El Dorado Hills resident had a brain aneurysm in her sleep and died.
Her kidneys and liver saved three lives, her corneas gave sight to two people and her tissue went to countless others.
The meeting between Ken and Linda West and Schreiber took place on what would have been Kaylee’s 30th birthday, at the moment she was born – 3:38 p.m. Arranged by Sierra Donor Services, the Wests met Schreiber at the Golden 1 Center because they’re huge Sacramento Kings fans and Kaylee’s favorite color was purple.
“Meeting her today, it just closes the circle,” Ken West said. “We feel like we’ve fulfilled Kaylee’s last wishes. And it’s awesome. It’s bittersweet, it’s not sad. It feels right.”
Schreiber, 60, has polycystic kidney disease, which causes numerous cysts to grow in the kidneys. While on the transplant list, she had two false alerts about available kidneys before Kaylee’s kidney was offered to her.
“(Meeting a donor family) is something you don’t know how to prepare for, it doesn’t happen every day,” she said. “I’m thrilled to meet them.”
They also got to put finishing touches on a floral portrait – a “florigraph” – of their daughter that will adorn a float in the 2017 Rose Bowl parade. Kaylee’s parents, her brothers, Kenny and Alex, and Schreiber carefully added the eyebrows to the portrait.
Kaylee’s parents have spent about 100 hours encouraging people to join the “Donate Life” registry at various events around California. The Wests stressed the importance of having the conversation about organ donation with loved ones. Kaylee didn’t have the pink donor circle on her driver’s license, so her parents wouldn’t have known her wishes if she hadn’t spoken to them about it.
“It’s just to help tell the story – not just our personal story – but the hundreds of thousands of people who are on transplant lists who never get the opportunity,” Ken West said. “That’s the reason I do it. …There’s people out there that the only way they have a chance is by somebody’s decision to be a donor. I think that’s priceless.”
As of a couple weeks ago, there were 2,632 people on the transplant list in the Sacramento region, said Deanna Santana with Sierra Donor Services.
In the days after Kaylee’s death, her friends created purple bands with “Kaylee Elaine West” on one side and “WWKD” on the other side, for “What Would or Wouldn’t Kaylee Do?”
The Wests and Kaylee’s friends have handed out bracelets from Hawaii to Ireland, Ken West said.
“Have the talk (about organ donating), know, so that when you are stricken in the time of tragedy, you’re not left with trying to make the decision without really knowing,” he said.