Family, friends celebrate life of young Sparta mom who died waiting for lung transplantTerri Finch Hamilton | The Grand Rapids
Kerry Hutchins spent most of her life struggling to breathe, but a church full of loved ones Wednesday imagined her breathing easy in heaven, dancing and running and drinking in the air.
Hundreds of family members and friends filed past Hutchins' white casket covered with pink roses, then sang, prayed and remembered the vibrant, funny, faith-filled woman whodied Saturday after a long wait for a double lung transplant.
They also talked of her legacy. After aPress story last month in which Hutchins talked openly and honestly about her three-year wait hoping for a transplant, hundreds who read about her signed up to be organ donors.
"She'll live on -- she made a difference," said Hutchins' grandmother, Norma Chapman, standing near her granddaughter's casket before the funeral at Kent City Baptist Church.
"This isn't how it was supposed to end," said Betsy Miner-Swartz quietly as mourners wrote messages to Hutchins on big scrapbook pages in aqua ink. Miner-Swartz works for the organ donation organization Gift of Life Michigan.
Everyone hoped Hutchins would get new lungs.
Hutchins, who was 33 and the mother of two sons, struggled to breathe but loved to laugh.
At the University of Michigan Health Systems, where she spent the last four months waiting and hoping for a transplant, she taped Styrofoam cups to her hospital equipment, instructing the staff to pay every time they listened to her lungs.
She charged a sliding scale, from 25 cents for nurses up to 10 bucks for doctors, who, Hutchins figured, could afford it.
It made sense that there was laughter at her funeral.
Her husband, Matt Hutchins, told how their first date was to see a "Star Wars" movie. With her head covered in little spiky pigtails, he recalled how she looked like the sinister character Darth Maul.
When Hutchins' 84-year-old grandma Norma slowly walked from her seat, up the stairs and across the risers to the podium to offer her memories, everyone waited in silence. "We might have had a little organ interlude while I was getting up the steps," she quipped.
Kerry would have cracked up.
Then Chapman told how her granddaughter set up a lawn chair by the family's chicken coop, and kept the chickens company.
When Hutchins saw that one chicken had a crooked beak, she especially bonded with that one, Chapman said. It had trouble eating. Because of cystic fibrosis, so did Kerry.
Her husband, Matt, said he and Kerry knew when they married seven years ago that cystic fibrosis, a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, might end her life early.
"But we decided it would be better to have a family for a short time than to not have one at all," he said. "I said I'd be hers forever. She said she'd be mine forever. Unfortunately, forever isn't as long as we'd hoped."
YOU CAN HELP
To register as an organ donor, visit giftoflifemichigan.org.
Those wishing to contribute to help the family pay for expenses can contact Hessel-Cheslek Funeral Home, 88 E. Division St., Sparta, Mi. 49345.
Their 4-year-old son, Aiden, snuggled on his dad's shoulder as they followed the flower-covered casket down the church aisle.
Hutchins' dad, George Roby, usually wears a T-shirt that reads "Donate." Wednesday, he wore a gray suit coat. But when he talked about his daughter, he told of her hope that people would consider signing up to be organ donors.
"Please have that conversation with your family," Roby told the church full of people. "Talk about the tough things. Then maybe you can meet that emotional time with a bit of logic, and let your loved one live on through transplant.
"I have two hearts," he said, patting his pants pocket, where his wallet held his driver's license with its heart sticker.
Register through the Secretary of State's office or at giftoflifemichigan.org, and you'll receive a heart sticker signifying a registered organ donor.
Hutchins had one, and hoped to offer her organs to give someone else life.
Unfortunately, Roby said, infections Hutchins battled made her organs unsuitable for transplant.
"I was disappointed about that," he said, "and Kerry would be, too."
But her willingness to donate, he said, and her spirit that convinced others to sign up, live on.
"Thank you, sweet pea," he said.