Gratitude That Lasts a Lifetime

By John Kelly
Thursday, December 28, 2006

T he hope at Children's Hospital is that every young patient will become an old ex-patient. Children's is never far from the thoughts of those whose lives were saved there. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, spoke with two grateful alumnae.

Frederick, 1986: Erica Perry is watching "The Sound of Music" on TV. The phone rings. Bad news: The lethargy she's been feeling lately is caused by kidney failure.

Erica's not sure what her kidney does exactly, but when her parents load her into the car and shuttle her some 50 miles to Children's Hospital in Washington, she knows the situation is serious.

Indianapolis, 2006: Erica -- now Erica Kuchinski, 37 -- puts her son, Ian, down for a nap and answers a reporter's phone call. Life is good. Very good. It's been nearly 20 years since Dr. Phillip Guzzetta, a surgeon at Children's, successfully placed her mother's kidney inside her body.

Twenty years, and not a drop of gratitude lost in time. How to express how grateful she is for this second life?

"Words aren't really enough," she says. So she traveled to Children's Hospital in October to give Dr. Guzzetta the gold medal she won at the Transplant Games this year for the 200-meter dash -- a token of appreciation, a sign of her health and endurance.

* * *

Annapolis, 1991: Katie Strumpf wakes up because her parents are telling her to get dressed. She thinks it's morning, time to leave for her cousin's bat mitzvah. She doesn't know this will be the longest night of her life.

Her parents tell it to her straight: They're going to Children's Hospital; she has leukemia.

Katie, 10, isn't certain what leukemia is, but she doesn't like the sound of it coming from her mother. She doesn't like the helplessness in her mom's eyes -- doesn't like understanding that her parents can't fix this.

Bethesda, 2006: Katie, now 26, is in her condo. Cellphone service is spotty, but everything else in her life seems to be intact.

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