A mother's gift: Stranger to donate kidney to 8-year-old
JANESVILLE—When police officer Lindsey Bittorf came to the door earlier this month, 8-year-old Jackson Arneson saw her light brown shirt with U.S. flag emblem and mistook her for a Boy Scout.
He did not know the stranger who came to save his life.
“I have an early Mother's Day gift for you,” Lindsey told Kristi Goll, Jackson's mom.
Then Lindsey handed Kristi and Jackson creatively framed messages saying that she would donate a kidney to young Jackson.
Kristi cried in disbelief.
For months, the Janesville mother had worried whether a suitable kidney donor would be found for her third-grade son.
At one point, Kristi was so discouraged she almost gave up hope.
Then Lindsey appeared, and Kristi could do nothing but weep.
“We cried a lot,” Kristi said. “We hugged a lot.”
After all, what do you say to someone who appears out of nowhere to give your child the gift of life?
Lindsey, an officer with the Town of Milton Police Department, came to the door with her husband, Ryan Bittorf, a deputy with the Rock County Sheriff's Office.
They came in uniform because they know Jackson likes law enforcement officers.
And they came only hours after Lindsey received the green light as a donor.
Lindsey, the town's first female police officer, has taken an oath to serve and protect her community.
“My kidney will now be able to serve and protect you,” Lindsey told Jackson.
Lindsey, who also is a mom, learned about Jackson on social media.
She immediately contacted University Hospital in Madison to find out if she qualified as a donor.
“I would hope that someone would save my child's life,” Lindsey explained. “It takes a village to raise a child. We're all in a village here.”
Lindsey sent Kristi a Facebook message saying that she was in the process of being tested.
“I just knew it would be me,” Lindsey said.
A child typically must be at least 24 months old to receive an adult kidney, and there is usually enough space for the new kidney to fit, Kristi said.
Lindsey goes into the surgery with her eyes wide open.
“I have a master's degree in psychology,” Lindsey said. “I understand the positives and negatives of the situation.”
She will take two months of unpaid leave from her job for the surgery in June and recovery.
“I'm excited,” Lindsey said. “It will be summer, and I will get to hang out with my kid.”
Kristi still can't believe Lindsey's unexpected support.
“She is helping to give Jackson a great future,” Kristi said. “With such a big life event, I am so glad we have formed this bond. She is going to always be a part of us. She is completely selfless.”
Both women are 31. Both know many of the same people. But they did not meet each other until earlier this month.
Lindsey insists she would volunteer for the surgery, even if she was not a mom.
“Children are our future,” she explained.
Lindsey went into law enforcement to help people in bad times.
“I want to make their worst times better,” she said.
Young Jackson, when learning about the kidney donation, wondered aloud if Lindsey's kidney will help him run faster.
“He's really excited,” Kristi said, about feeling better.
A student at Van Buren Elementary, Jackson told his class about his upcoming surgery, and one student asked if Jackson could buy a kidney at Target.
Lindsey told Jackson that, after the surgery, a part of her will always be with him.
“I'll be there if you ever get pulled over for speeding,” she said, smiling.
Lindsey dismisses any reference to herself as a hero.
Kristi and Jackson are the real heroes, she said.
Jackson was born prematurely with a congenital condition called posterior urethral valves, which caused severe damage to his kidneys. He spent two month in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Doctors said the child would need a new kidney someday. Last year, they said it was time to search for a donor.
Kristi reached out via social media. After a story about her family's plight on television earlier this month, a number of people came forward.
But Lindsey was the only one with the right blood type and other factors that make her a good match.
Jackson is one of 2,174 people in Wisconsin waiting for transplants, and most are waiting for kidneys, a hospital spokesman said.
Last year in Wisconsin, 389 people donated organs, and 160 were living donors. Most living donors are family and friends.
Kristi and Jackson do not know how to thank Lindsey for being the life-giving stranger at the door.
“It's been a long journey,” Kristi said. “This is the best Mother's Day gift I will ever receive.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.