In life there are ways to show kindness -- a thoughtful gift, a genuine smile, a complimenting expression. In life there are ways to show gratitude -- a heartfelt thank-you, a soothing presence, an exchange of caring deeds. Then, sometimes, in life there is a divine exemplification that illustrates how the unselfish gesture of one can transform the life of another in such a magnificent way that she becomes the essence of both kindness and gratitude. And this is exactly what happened to Ashleigh Greenman.
Ashleigh Greenman had an atypical childhood often forced to fend for herself due to her complicated family dynamic and an alcoholic mother. During this time, she learned to be independent, and this autonomous youth was put to the test when she was faced with a life-altering diagnosis.
“I was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes when I was 10 years old,” Greenman says. “I spent two weeks in Children’s Mercy Hospital learning as much as I could about my new diagnosis and how to live with it. I learned how to give myself insulin shots, check my blood sugars, and count carbohydrates. My teenage years quickly approached, and diabetes took a back seat to my social life, slowly wreaking havoc on my body. Repeated low blood sugars would cause frequent seizures, and high blood sugars resulted in long-term damage to my heart, my eyes, my nerves, countless other systems, and especially my kidneys. It was what I couldn’t feel happening on the inside that was causing horrible problems.”
Greenman struggled to juggle her care and her family life, but despite this, she was able to complete cosmetology school and eventually gave birth to her beautiful daughter, Elle, at 23. But the disease that had been bubbling below the surface would soon become the forefront of her existence, and at age 25 she could no longer keep it suppressed. After months of declining health, Greenman visited her family doctor in 2009 where she received two additional diagnoses: celiac disease and end stage renal failure. It was the latter diagnosis that would take her breath away.
With kidneys functioning below 17 percent, Greenman was immediately put on dialysis and began to prepare herself to receive a donor kidney and pancreas. Soon she became all too familiar with the myriad of emotions that came and went with every call she received about the promise of a donor match, calls that would occur 10 times over 18 months, two weeks, and three days. Then, on April 16, 2011, the phone rang once again. It was this ring that would forever change her story but also signaled the untimely death of 18-year old Nick, her perfect match donor.
Prior to the car accident that took Nick’s life he was described as a very kind, gentle, funny young man. He was an athlete and worked at a local nursing home. At the age of 16, he adamantly determined he would become an organ donor to ensure others could live their best life. It is because of him that Greenman is able to do just that. On April 17, 2011 with support of her family and friends she was successfully transplanted.
It is hard to imagine that something amazing could result from something tragic or to fathom that one act of ultimate kindness and sacrifice could completely change life’s meaning. Today, Greenman is dedicating her time to pay it forward including returning to school to obtain a master’s degree in social work where she can reach many people. She is also a volunteer for the Gift of Life where she mentors others who are on the transport waiting list. And every year she celebrates her rebirth day, April 17, as an homage to Nick.
“I am alive and healthy today simply because of one amazing family, and their beautiful son, my hero, Nick,” she says. “I will never be able to put into words how grateful and blessed I am to have received the gift of life.”