Girl’s death brings gift of life to others
By DONNA VICKROY email@example.com May 27, 2012 10:00PM
Bob Nelson and Krista Wilkinson hold their daughter Kaylah's yearbook and leadership award in their Hometown home Sunday. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:49AM
Kaylah Lentine was a bright, lively, creative soul who loved music, art and posting homemade movies to YouTube.
She was driven, passionate and most definitely blessed with the gift of gab.
“She was in no hurry to grow up,” recalled her mom, Krista Wilkinson, as she sat in the family kitchen just two days after her oldest child was pronounced dead.
“She could be really silly,” Wilkinson said.
Yet, oddly enough, the 14-year-old Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School eighth grader was also wise beyond her years.
Wilkinson said as she sat at Christ Medical Center Thursday night and Friday, dreading the worst, she recalled her daughter’s prophetic words from just a few months back.
“Anyone who doesn’t donate their organs is just plain selfish,” Kaylah had told her parents, as invincibly as only a teenager can.
So when doctors told Wilkinson and Kaylah’s stepdad, Bob Nelson, that their spunky child was brain-dead, Wilkinson said she knew exactly what to do next.
As a result, the young girl who lost her life after a pickup truck slammed into her near the intersection of Southwest Highway and Cicero brought new life to at least five other people, Wilkinson said.
“Her liver went to a 10-month-old baby and her heart to a 56-year-old man,” she said. “She gets to live on in other people. And that gives me peace.”
Kaylah was running late to school on May 24. She was excited to be receiving a leadership award during an assembly that morning. She’d picked out a special outfit the night before.
But when she missed the bus that morning, what was to be a day of celebration turned into a nightmare.
Just after 8 a.m. on that fateful day, Wilkinson was at work, teaching second graders at St. Helena of the Cross School in Chicago. Nelson, who’d recently been laid off his construction job, was getting ready to head up to Kaylah’s school to watch her get an award for two years’ participation in Students Against Destructive Decisions.
He noticed the traffic snarl near Cicero and Southwest Highway and circumvented the mess to get to the assembly on time.
Wilkinson’s dad, who lives in Oak Forest, was already at the school.
“The saddest thing is that either of them could have picked Kaylah up and driven her to school if they’d known she’d missed the bus,” Wilkinson said.
But, like a lot of kids, Kaylah seemed determined to rectify the situation herself and decided to run the 2.3 miles to school.
The assembly was abuzz with activity.
“I heard her name called but I figured I just didn’t see her stand up with the others. I couldn’t find her in the crowd,” Nelson recalled.
Later that morning, Nelson said the school called. Kaylah wasn’t in attendance. A little later, Oak Lawn police called, saying they’d found a cell phone near the intersection and Nelson’s number was on it.
Wilkinson, who keeps her phone off while in class, checked it during lunch. Police had called her, too. She’d been planning to leave early that day to attend a play that featured her other children, 8-year-old twins Jayce and Delanie, Kaylah’s step-siblings. She headed to the station instead.
Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle came together and Wilkinson and Nelson learned that Kaylah was in critical condition at Christ, suffering head and chest trauma.
Even though well-intentioned callers promised her daughter would pull through, Wilkinson said she somehow knew what sadness awaited them.
“I tried to stay positive, but I had this intuition she wasn’t going to wake up,” she said.
Friday afternoon, the worst became reality. Wilkinson said after being told she immediately asked to see someone about organ donation.
She had recalled another sad story about a woman who had planned to donate a kidney to her brother but was killed before that could happen. She remembered Kaylah’s outrage that the killer robbed two people of a future.
“I can’t have the one thing I want, but this is the next best thing, to know she helped so many others,” Wilkinson said.
So the girl who loved Anime and the ‘80s band Journey, who had so many friends that her yearbook is now bursting with sentiments, who wrote poems and stories and songs, is now also a lifesaver.
The teen who told her good friend Marty Feigl that she wanted to be either a florist, a photographer or a psychologist when she grew up has now given others the opportunity to plan and hope.
“It’s not goodbye,” Marty said. “It’s see you later.”
On Wednesday, three of Kaylah’s friends will accept her diploma on stage and present it to her parents.
Wilkinson and Nelson are easily overcome by the bittersweetness of it all.
“I’ve been crying for three days, both because she’s gone and because all these people get a future now,” Nelson said.
Services for Kaylah Lentine are pending. To see her YouTube movies, enter kapactlovesu