Updated: 05/20/2014 10:41 PM
Created: 05/20/2014 4:06 PM WDIO.com
Tessa Hertel was excited to graduate high school on Saturday. But she was even more excited, when she saw her donor family at the ceremony in South Dakota.
"I was so shocked to see them there, because they told me they weren't coming," she told us via Skype. The mother and brother of her organ donor attended the ceremony, as a surprise.
It was part of a 17 year journey between the families.
Tessa was born with a liver disease. At one year old, she received the liver, of Kristin Burkholder.
"Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday," reflected Kristin's father, Kevin. He's speaking of the crash that took his daughter's life. Kristin, then 12, was at track practice when she was hit by a car. That was back in April of 1997.
"I know Kristin would have wanted to give back. So I told the doctors, do whatever you can, to make sure she can donate her organs. Many of her organs were donated. Tessa is the one person we keep in touch with," Burkholder told us.
"We truly believe it's a gift from God, that Kristin's death saved Tessa," he added.
Tessa told us she gets emotional when she speaks about it. "It's really touching to know their daughter lives within me. They've watched me grow up, and they can see Kristin in me."
We asked Tessa what she plans to do now. She wants to become a nurse, to help give back to those who helped her survive.
If she could, she'd give Kristin a hug and never let go. "She saved my life."
As for organ donation, she encourages everyone to do it. "I just found out I can be a donor. So even if you have medical conditions, you can still help others."
Kristin's father recently handed out scholarship's in her name, at the Esko High School. Money is raised through the annual Kristin Burkholder Memorial 5K, which happens each August in Esko.
"Those are two things that have helped us through this tragedy. The scholarships to help young people, and seeing Tessa thrive," Kevin Burkholder added.
Their family also encourages anyone to be an organ donor.
Spectators Witness Athlete Triumph at Cable IPC Championships
Competition got underway Saturday morning in Cable, Wisconsin for the International Paralympic Committee World Championships starting with the standing and visually impaired biathlon...
Nolan Applauds Tariffs Against International Solar Panels
The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) decided to sign off on tariffs against solar panels from China and Taiwan. The big debate stemmed from the cheap, subsidized products that injured U.S. solar manufactures including silicon energy in Mountain Iron.
Duluth Celebrates Winter Milestones with Spirit Mountain Rail Jam
A weekend of winter fun celebrated several milestones in Duluth. This year marks a combined 100 years of snow sports in Duluth with Spirit Mountain just passing its 40th birthday and the Ski Hut celebrating 60 years of service.
Michigan Officials: New Cases of White-Nose Syndrome in Bats Found
State officials say they've received the first reports this winter of Michigan bats dying from white-nose syndrome. Dead bats have been found outside an abandoned copper mine near Mohawk in the Upper Peninsula's Keweenaw County.
Warm Temps Make Mushing Difficult in Beargrease
Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon supporters were out at Black Bear Casino Friday night to kick off the week of race events.