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Donor's family follows organ recipient's childhood

  • Associated Press
  • May 21, 2014 - 10:40 AM

ESKO, Minn. — A South Dakota teen's high school graduation included the family of a Minnesota girl who donated a life-saving organ to the graduate 17 years ago.

Tessa Hertel was born with a liver disorder that required a transplant for survival. Kristin Burkholder, of Esko, was 12 years old when she was struck and killed at track practice in April 1997. Hertel was just one year old when she received the transplant from Burkholder that saved her life.

Kristin's father, Kevin Burkholder, said many of his daughter's organs were donated.

"I know Kristin would have wanted to give back. So I told the doctors, do whatever you can, to make sure she can donate her organs. Many of her organs were donated," Burkholder said. "Tessa is the one person we keep in touch with."

So it was fitting that after watching her grow up, family members would attend Hertel's graduation in Parker, South Dakota, last weekend.

Kristin's mother and brother surprised Tessa by attending the ceremony.

"I was so shocked to see them there, because they told me they weren't coming," Hertel told WDIO-TV (http://bit.ly/1koIxfv ).

Hertel said she gets emotional when she talks about Kristin's gift of life.

"It's really touching to know their daughter lives within me. They've watched me grow up, and they can see Kristin in me," she said.

Hertel wants to become a nurse and encourages organ donation.

"I just found out I can be a donor. So even if you have medical conditions, you can still help others," she said.

© 2014 Star Tribune