A kidney for Kierra: Gettysburg Elementary and community rally around third-grader

Photo by Valerie Shelton
Kierra’s brother Daryl Ellis, family friend Ava Torrenz, and cousin Janelle Ellis at the Gettysburg Elementary School carnival on May 6.

By Valerie Shelton, Editor

When you see 9-year-old Kierra Ellis running around the Gettysburg Elementary School playground with her friends at recess, you would never guess that every night she comes home and spends the rest of her day connected to a dialysis machine.

Currently living without kidneys, this is exactly what Kierra has to do each day, and on top of that she takes several pills and takes multiple trips monthly to the doctor for blood tests. And she’ll have to continue this regimen while she awaits a kidney transplant.

“She is on dialysis every day for 12 hours,” Kierra’s aunt Gina Arnold said. “Everyone sees her at school jumping and running around and she might get sleepy and tired and go to the nurses office but when she gets home, she’s on dialysis, hooked up to a machine. More than half of her day she is on the machine and she is takes pills, she is on a special diet, she has to get her blood pressure checked, she goes in to get blood work, and she is poked with needles all the time, but to see her here at school functioning, you wouldn’t know.”

Despite the challenges, Arnold said Kierra has remained strong.

“I’ve been talking to her teachers and she is doing really well in class,” Arnold said.

Kierra is also exceptionally kind and always offers a helping hand to others even though she has her own pain to endure.

“I had ankle surgery on a Wednesday and she came to my house the following Monday to see how I was doing,” Arnold said. “My own daughter was standing in the kitchen and her brother Daryl was in the kitchen and I was struggling to get out of the recliner and Kierra comes out of the kitchen and says ‘Auntie, do you want me to help you up? Do you need help?’”

On May 6, the Gettysburg Elementary School community stepped up to raise funds for the third-grader at the school’s annual carnival. Members of the school’s parent-teacher association (PTA), along with Kierra’s family, had a booth set up in the multi-purpose room, where they sold $20 T-shirts that read “Kierra Strong.” The National Kidney Foundation was also at the carnival, giving out information about how someone could become a donor.

To further support Kierra, who Arnold says loves to practice karate-style chopping moves, kids from Art of Shotokan Finn-Guido Karate demonstrated their skills on the Gettysburg multi-purpose room stage. Kierra was scheduled to join them and show the crowd her chop, but she was hospitalized earlier in the week. Instead, her older brother, Daryl Ellis, 15, did a chop in her honor.

Ellis, a freshman at Clovis East High School, said it has been difficult watching his sister on dialysis.

Already, the family has endured unimaginable struggles. Daryl and Kierra’s older brother, Trell, was killed while riding his bicycle to school. Then, their father killed their mother and is serving 16 years to life in prison. Keirra and Daryl now live with their grandmother, Lena Martin. Kierra, Daryl said, is the heart of their family.

“She had a rare kidney disease and her kidney’s failed and now she just needs kidneys,” Daryl Ellis said. “She is my sister and she is the heart of our family so it has been tough. It’s good to see that everyone cares.”
Arnold said the support has been overwhelming and she hopes that as awareness spreads, more people will become donors and save lives like Kierra’s. Kierra, Arnold said, first got sick when she was four and shortly afterward her kidneys failed and she had them removed. Now that she is nine, Arnold said the good news is that Kierra can receive an adult kidney. The road to getting that kidney, though, will be long and costly.

“It is quite costly medical wise and financially for the family when she does go and get her transplant,” Arnold said. “She is on the list but we don’t know where she is at on it. You could get a call any day saying there is a kidney and we need you to be here tomorrow in Stanford and, in that case, you have to up and go and there are hotel expenses and food expenses, there is gas and then someone has to watch over Daryl. And it’s not like she will go into the hospital and be out within a week. It will take a long time.”

Arnold said the money raised by the Gettsyburg PTA will help fund the transplant surgery itself as well as these other expenses.

Halfway through the carnival, family friend Michelle Rabbon said the PTA had already nearly sold out of all the T-shirts and orders were being taken.

“Kierra is a tough cookie,” Rabbon said. “She really is a very sweet little girl and I think it is wonderful that the school is supporting her.”