Trinity toddler gets life-changing kidney from stranger

WINSTON-SALEM, NC -- It’s a remarkable story, something seemingly right out of the movies. A Trinity 2-year-old has a new kidney thanks to the kindness of a stranger. Today the families on both the giving and receiving end of the transplant shared their stories hoping to inspire more transplant donors.

Today, 2-year-old Hazel Niemitalo is a happy, healthy toddler but before receiving a new kidney on Dec. 20, 2016, she was very sick.

“She threw up everyday probably 10 times a day for a year straight because she couldn’t keep food in her stomach because her kidneys were so big,” said her Hazel’s mom, Maria Niemitalo.

But both her parents say she was still always happy even as they endured 9-months living at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center while Hazel was being treated, waiting for a kidney.

It was congenital nephrotic syndrome, a genetic condition which causes defects in the kidneys, that put Kenny and Maria Niemitalo’s little girl in dire need of a kidney transplant.

“With a shortage of organs there’s many people that die waiting to get a kidney transplant that never do,” said Dr. Ashton Chen, the director of pediatric transplant at Baptist.

But thanks to a woman in Upstate New York, Hazel got her kidney.

“It was kind of a light at the end of the tunnel moment,” Kenny said.

“For somebody to, a complete stranger to come forward and say, I want to donate, is really remarkable and amazing,” Chen said.

The stranger was Amy Schlee, a resident of Oneonta, New York. She saw Kenny on the TV show American Ninja Warrior where he shared Hazel’s need.

“I knew immediately that I was going to reach out and this is what I wanted to do,” Schlee said during a FaceTime call to the family on Wednesday.

“We never knew her, we’d never heard of her, we met her the day before the surgery and then she donated her kidney to our daughter,” Maria said.

The kidney gave Hazel renewed health.

“For a child it’s remarkable what it can do for them. It can allow them to lead a normal life,”said Dr. Alan Farney, the transplant surgeon.

“You can give a kidney and have just a normal of a life yourself and there’s so many kids and so many people that do need a kidney,” Kenny said.

The Niemitalos say Schlee is just another part of their family now.

“I’m so happy that I did it and I think people that are in the situation that could step up and do it should definitely consider it,” Schlee said.

Kenny and Maria feel blessed to have a total stranger want to step up like Schlee did and would encourage everyone to consider doing the same.

“We’re just very thankful for how it worked out,” Kenny said.

They spent about 10 minutes on a FaceTime call this day but the Niemitalos have already visited Schlee at her home in New York and plan to keep up the friendship for a lifetime.