BY TERI MADDOX - NEWS-DEMOCRAT
Kassie Morton now is Kathie's 15-year-old adopted daughter. She was diagnosed in 2009 with a rare disorder that caused kidney failure.
Kathie was a perfect match for organ donation, despite no biological connection. She gave Kassie a kidney in November.
"I was scared inside," said Kathie, 57, of rural Millstadt. "I would be a liar if I said I wasn't. But then I got it in my head that God had given me this job to do, and he was behind it. That's really what got me through it."
Today, mother and daughter are recovering well, although Kathie suffered a bout with the flu around Christmas.
Kassie no longer needs dialysis to purify her blood. She'll be able to get out more with friends when her immunity is back to normal.
"It's pretty cool that (Mom) was actually a match," said Kassie, a freshman at Belleville West High School.
Kathie and her husband, David, took in Kassie as a 22-month-old foster child in 1997, two years after their 19-year-old biological daughter, Kara Morton, and 2-year-old granddaughter, Lauren, were killed in a car accident.
The couple also have three biological sons, Ryan, 38, Kyle, 23, and Colin, 14, and an adopted daughter, Kiara, 9, from Guatemala.
Kassie seemed fine until the summer of 2009, when she began experiencing fatigue and loss of appetite.
"I offered her something to eat that she really liked, and she said, 'I'm not hungry,'" said Kathie, a homemaker. "I thought that was weird."
Doctors quickly diagnosed nephronophthisis, a genetic disorder that causes kidney disease in children.
The Mortons were able to notify three of Kassie's five biological brothers, who had been adopted by other families, to warn them of potential health risks. None was old enough to be tested as a possible organ donor.
Kassie went on dialysis in March, which helped with fatigue but required her to be hooked up to a blood-purifying machine every night.
"I was still tired," she said. "But at least I could get up and go to school. The only thing that made me mad was that I couldn't spend the night at my friend's house."
The illness put a strain on the whole family. It was a challenge to plan evening activities and too difficult to go on vacations.
"I think the other two children (at home) thought that they were being neglected," said David, 61, a parts salesman at a Chevrolet dealership. " Even though they knew it was a serious thing going on, it was still hard for them."
Kathie was tested as a possible organ donor in July. The kidney transplant was scheduled for September but had to be postponed when she got poison ivy.
Little Kiara begged her mother not to undergo surgery, fearing something would go wrong. David wasn't surprised his wife made the sacrifice.
"She's that kind of person," he said. "I think even if it was somebody that she just knew ... If she could save their life, she would."
The transplant took place Nov. 29. David divided his time between Kassie at St. Louis Children's Hospital and Kathie at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
He was amazed to learn the kidney was transported in a small cooler by a lone employee who used regular hallways, elevators and bridges. Kassie took the ordeal in stride.
"I didn't worry about it because my mother's such a good worrier," she said. "I figured she could do all my worrying for me."
In the past six weeks, mother and daughter have spent a lot of time watching movies and Christmas specials.
Kassie's favorite TV shows are "Glee," "Supernatural," "Friends" and "How I Met Your Mother." She also likes to sing, dance, read and write stories and poems.
"She's your typical teenager," Kathie said. "She doesn't want to be seen with me in public unless she's shopping."
The Mortons have promised to take Kassie to Florida's SeaWorld to swim with the dolphins as a reward for withstanding so much in the past year and a half.
"She's biological now because she's got one of my kidneys," Kathie joked. "If she starts craving cappuccino, we'll know why."