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Explosion survivor: ‘Every day holds the possibility of a miracle’

YolandCollins who survived life threatening gas explosiher house holds phoher cousWardell JeffersCollins who she recently donated kidney California. She is

Yolanda Collins, who survived a life threatening gas explosion in her house, holds a photo of her cousin Wardell Jefferson Collins, who she recently donated a kidney to in California. She is pictured at her home in Park Forest, Illinois, Monday, January 7, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media

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Updated: February 11, 2013 7:26AM



Having narrowly survived a gas explosion that destroyed her Park Forest residence two years ago, Yolanda Collins is now repaying the gift of life.

Collins, 35, donated her left kidney last month to her 24-year-old nephew, Wardell Jefferson-Collins, who had been suffering from late-stage kidney failure.

“He calls me all the time to tell me he’s taking care of my kidney,” Collins said. “He has his color back, he’s healthy, and it’s great to see.”

Collins lost her home and all of her belongings in a harrowing gas explosion at her home in the first block of Bailey Road in February 2011. Two AT&T workers heard her screams from what was left of the second-floor duplex unit, and one of them scaled a ladder to rescue her minutes before the entire structure collapsed.

Jefferson-Collins, the son of Collins’ sister Denise, was diagnosed with end stage renal disease, one of the final stages of kidney failure, in January 2012. He was undergoing kidney dialysis for up to 10 hours a day and was suffering from debilitating headaches.

“Some days I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed,” said Jefferson-Collins, of San Francisco. “What I could do was limited. I was always energetic and upbeat and wanting to do different things and I just couldn’t do them.”

Collins said that looking at her nephew “was like a slow death,” so she agreed to be on the list of willing donors. When the other would-be donors weren’t suitable, Collins took the required medical tests in November and learned her kidney was a match. She flew to San Francisco, and the transplant took place Dec. 19.

The operation lasted a few hours. Collins was up and walking around by the following day and is back at her new Park Forest residence recovering.

Collins said she is feeling better but still walks around slowly and feels pain whenever she sneezes or coughs.

“It’s like your insides aren’t right,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like your body. Childbirth was much, much easier.”

Her goal is to heal up completely and return to work in six weeks as an after-school tutor at Donoghue Elementary School in Chicago.

Jefferson-Collins said his aunt’s donation saved his life.

“It’s made things pretty much normal to me,” he said. “It means the world to me and there aren’t too many other ways to describe it.”

Collins said she donated her kidney to Jefferson-Collins because she “wanted to see him live.”

She said she thinks about her own brush with death every day. A state report found that the explosion occurred after two employees with Trine Construction Corp. hit a nearby gas line.

Collins’ son Adrian, now 7, was at school at the time of the blast. Their new place is around the corner.

“Half the time, I’m thinking this one will blow up too,” Collins said. “Every time I see the flags (indicating gas line construction), I leave. I’m much more cautious now.”

Collins has filed a lawsuit claiming negligence on the part of Trine, the village of Park Forest, USIC Utility Resources and Northern Illinois Gas Co. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and court costs and is pending.

While Collins lost everything in the accident, her new residence is filled with furniture donated by neighbors, friends and charity organizations.

She said she is reminded of her good fortune every day by a phrase painted in black letters on her living room wall: “Every day holds the possibility of a miracle.”



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