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Ross woman receives scholarship for organ-donation awareness work

| Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 4:57 p.m.
Danielle Kappeler, 18, of Ross is one of ten recipients the 2015 Isabelle Christenson Memorial Scholarship, a $1,000 scholarship awarded by the Izzie’s Gifts of Hope Foundation and the Center for Organ Recovery & Education, or CORE.
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Danielle Kappeler, 18, of Ross is one of ten recipients the 2015 Isabelle Christenson Memorial Scholarship, a $1,000 scholarship awarded by the Izzie’s Gifts of Hope Foundation and the Center for Organ Recovery & Education, or CORE.

A new North Hills High School graduate has been recognized with a scholarship for her efforts to promote awareness of organ donation.

Danielle Kappeler, 18, of Ross is one of 10 recipients the 2015 Isabelle Christenson Memorial Scholarship, a $1,000 scholarship awarded by the Izzie's Gifts of Hope Foundation and the Center for Organ Recovery & Education, or CORE.

The scholarship is given to students who have been affected by organ donation and make an effort to promote awareness of organ donation. Recipients are selected based on their essays and personal recommendations.

Kappeler received a liver transplant at the age of 6 after being injured in a vehicle crash.

Her parents, Ron and Debbie Kappeler, took her to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh after a family friend, who worked as a nurse, suspected their daughter's liver was failing.

Children's Hospital physicians confirmed the diagnosis.

“Her liver was dead when we got to Children's,” said her father, Ron Kappeler, 45. “She was in such bad liver rejection that they gave her two to five days to live. Later that night, they changed it to 10 hours (to live).”

Doctors immediately sought a donor organ, and Kappeler held on longer than initially expected. Eight days later, she and another patient, a 13-year-old boy, split the liver of a deceased donor.

“That organ saved two lives,” Ron Kappeler said.

“But you have to realize someone had to lose their life to give it.”

The girl's liver transplant started affecting those around her right away. Her parents, four sisters, aunts and uncles all signed up to be organ donors as the result of her surgery.

She also joined the ranks of those who sign up to be organ donors.

“Saving lives is really important. One organ (donor) can save up to eight lives,” Danielle Kappeler said.

She said she tells others about her experience everywhere she goes, including at school and on shift as a volunteer firefighter for the Evergreen Volunteer Fire Company.

“People tell me I'm an inspiration, and they're proud of me. I'm not scared to tell people about my transplant.”

She frequently talks about her experience, as well as the experiences of others she knows, on Facebook and Instagram to raise awareness among her peers. In addition, she participates in fundraisers such as the Izzie's Gifts of Hope Foundation's annual run/walk. This was her fifth year taking part in that event centered around fundraising, celebrating life and raising awareness of organ donation.

Kappeler said she applied for the scholarship because she thinks it is a “really good thing to share my story.”

Michelle Christenson, donor family and living donor coordinator at CORE, based in O'Hara, established the Izzie's Gifts of Hope Foundation after her daughter, Isabelle, an organ recipient, died in 2008 at age 10.

“The foundation is two-fold,” she explained. “We do outings for families with chronic illness. We know life is too short. And we give scholarships because we want to recognize and bring awareness to those affected by organ donation. It's our way to turn a negative into a positive and give back.”

Danielle Kappeler plans to continue giving back.

Inspired by the nurses she met during her time in the hospital, she plans to pursue a degree in nursing at the Community College of Allegheny County. “I want to work at Children's on the transplant floor,” she said. “That is my main goal.”

Leighann Marquiss is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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