Written by Bruce Brown | The Advertiser
CHURCH POINT — Kizzie Ellis was welcomed like family Wednesday. A Church Point community embraced her barely a year removed from losing two of its own, heartened by the healing power of organ donation.
Ellis can see today largely because she received a cornea from Ben Guidry, who was killed along with inseparable best friend Aaron Richard in a traffic accident on Feb. 23, 2010.
Wednesday, the New Orleans woman met Guidry's friends and extended family, along with members of the Church Point High Class of 2010. Mayor Roger Boudreaux gave her the key to the city.
"It has changed me to meet his family," Ellis said. "I used to feel guilty being able to see while they were grieving for him. I didn't know, would they embrace me? Accept me? This has released me. I couldn't be happy while they were suffering. Now I can enjoy this gift."
Ellis had spent time in therapy dealing with her feelings of guilt, knowing someone had lost a son or daughter in order for her to be able to see. She first met the Guidry family at a Southern Eye Bank picnic on March 19 at the Audubon Zoo that put donor families together with recipients. That began to change things.
Then, Wednesday's visit cemented a growing bond.
"I lost a son, but I feel like I've gained another daughter," said Paula Guidry, Ben's mother.
Her daughter, Kellie, squired Ellis around Church Point for the visit before delivering her to the gathering.
"This has helped Kellie tremendously," Paula Guidry said. "She feels like she's got part of Ben back."
"Before," Ellis said, "I had partial vision. I had to wear special contacts. But I told Paula that it was like driving in fog. You can turn on the high beams, but it doesn't matter; you still can't see clearly."
Ellis waited some 10 years for the surgery to clear her vision. She received Ben Guidry's right cornea, and another cornea from another donor.
"It's remarkable to see how many people can be helped by one donor," said Paula Guidry, who along with Kellie and husband Peter is gradually healing. "It has helped me a lot. We wrote a letter 4 or 5 months earlier, saying what it would mean to us to meet a recipient. When we met, it was awesome. I immediately felt like I had known Kizzie forever."
"Ben had the vision to become an organ donor when he got his driver's license," said Boudreaux, whose son was a football teammate of Guidry's at CPHS. "That's important, because so many things can happen.
Now, today, Kizzie is seeing Church Point through Ben's eyes."
The event also celebrated Ellis's birthday, which is Friday. She will also return to present the newly-named Ben Guidry Award at the CPHS football banquet on May 18.
"Some days are so lonesome," Paula Guidry said. "There's not a day that goes by that we don't talk about Ben or think about him. With Kizzie, it feels like a little bit of my heart has been repaired. It's filled in again."
"Surgery changed my life," Ellis said. "I have my independence back. Before, I couldn't think about getting married or having kids. Now I have dreams."