WOODBURY, Minn. (FOX 9) - At just 27 years old, Carly Kelly has survived more life-threatening health conditions than most face in a lifetime. And she’s fought through each one with courage and strength.
"She has a positive outlook on life," beamed her father, Tim Kelly. "She is just a beautiful person."
At an early age, Carly battled a rare kidney condition called autosomal recessive polycystic kidney disease.
"I had a cystic kidney," explained Carly. "My kidneys were full of cysts, which caused them to fail."
By the time she turned eight, she needed a kidney transplant. And it turned out her perfect match was under the same roof.
"I was the first to jump in line right away before my wife said, ‘I’ll do it,’" recalled Tim. "I’m already registering for it. And I was very fortunate to be a match."
The transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic was a success. But by 2019, Carly needed another kidney and in 2020 a liver as well. This time, she received organs from anonymous donors who had recently died. Once again, the successful surgeries were performed at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
"It’s hard to thank someone who literally gave you your life back," said Carly.
Part of her way of giving back is by raising awareness for organ donation by competing in the Transplant Games of America taking place at the end of July in San Diego. Team MN-DAK from LifeSource, the organization that coordinates organ donations in the upper Midwest, is sending 25 people to the games from Minnesota, North and South Dakota and Western Wisconsin.
"The Transplant Games are kind of a mini Olympics," explained LifeSource team co-manager Teresa Turner. "The Transplant Games really is about highlighting the importance of donation of the lifesaving capabilities of transplantation and honoring the donor families."
Everyone competing in the games is the recipient of an organ, has donated one, or represents a family member who has donated an organ.
Team MN-DAK’s other co-manager, Susie Thomson, is representing her mother who died of a brain aneurysm in 2014. Her organs saved the lives of four people.
"You couldn’t ask for a better way to honor and remember her by her living on through other people," said Thomson.
The games begin on July 29th and run through August 3rd. For Carly and Tim Kelly, this will be their third time competing. They both won medals at the past games in Utah, and Cincinnati. But they both say the competition is secondary to shining in a spotlight on organ donation.
"The number one opportunity to participate in the games is to raise awareness for organ donation. And secondly, it is to honor the donor families," said Carly.
Having already received the gift of life, Carly and her family have already won.
"It’s super important," reflected Carly. "If it wasn’t for organ donation, I wouldn’t be here today, and for so many others in the same situation as well."
Anyone in Minnesota can become an organ donor by checking the organ donation box when they apply for their driver’s license. They can also sign up at www.life-source.org