By Tracy Garcia, Staff Writer | Whittier Daily News
NORWALK - They started out as professional acquaintances at the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, working together easily as both educators and fellow principals at the district's various school sites.
But now, Glazier Principal Kristine Cvar and Gardenhill Principal Eileen Burkholder call themselves "blood sisters" - and say they consider themselves lucky to work for a district that's become like a second family.
"Actually, I don't call my job `work' anymore," said Cvar, 40, who returned to work for the first time this week after undergoing a kidney transplant last summer following a nearly lifelong struggle with damaged kidneys.
As it turns out, the donor was none other than Burkholder, 45, who was back at work less than a week after donating her organ to Cvar in an Aug. 3 surgery.
Burkholder was one of several co-workers who approached Cvar about her health after Assistant Superintendent Chris Forehan sent out an e-mail two years ago, saying Cvar had been placed on dialysis because her only remaining kidney had failed.
Cvar needed a kidney transplant, Forehan wrote.
It struck a nerve with Burkholder, whose brother and nephew had gone through the process of donating part of their lungs.
"I sat next to Kris at one of the principals' meetings, and I said, `How are you doing?' And she did the old, `I'm fine,"' Burkholder said. "But then I asked a second question - something I don't think a lot of people do - which was, `No, how are you really feeling?'
"That's when she took off the mask and said, `You know what? I need a kidney.' And I wasn't expecting that," Burkholder said.
So she talked to Cvar a bit more, did her own research, then got her family's blessing to begin the testing process to see if she was a match.
And over the next year or so, "I just kept passing all the tests," Burkholder said.
Burkholder's only request was that the surgery be done during summer vacation because schools were out.
And even though she was supposed to rest for two weeks after the surgery last August, Burkholder was back in the office six days later.
"She was such a trooper about it," said Cvar, who was able to take the entire fall semester off to recover because of another donation from her fellow workers: Extra sick time.
"We worked with all of our administrative employees, who were able to donate enough sick leave to Kristine so she could stay off work and be ready and fit when she did come back," Forehan said.
"Our school district family really stepped up in this situation," he said. "To me, that's what a family is all about."
Now, both Burkholder and Cvar are healthy. Cvar will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life, and must go every two weeks for a checkup.
"But I'm doing great. I just feel normal - and I haven't felt like this in a very long time," Cvar said.
"Before all this, Eileen and I were co-workers and acquaintances, but it's not like we hung out together," Cvar said. "She just all of a sudden came and wanted to do something good - and this was something that's hard to do, to give up an organ for someone else.
"It's just very touching because it's not someone I would have expected it from," Cvar said, her voice full of emotion. "I was really blessed and fortunate to have her."
But more than anything, Burkholder said she wants to get the word out about how easily people can become living donors.
"It's worth it to save a life," she said. "I wouldn't have considered it if I didn't have my faith and the belief that you should love your neighbor as yourself. This was me thinking that I could show Kris how much God loves her.
"A lot of times, people don't do what's right," she said. "But on Aug. 3, I did."