The Spokesman-Review, The Seattle Times
When she opened the envelope, Denise Kitchen saw the enclosed photo before reading the letter she had waited so long to receive. A pretty teenage girl with freckles across her nose smiled up at her.
It was a portrait of Alicia Burroughs-Horne, the girl whose untimely death in 2003 saved Kitchen's life.
"I started crying," Kitchen said.
The 64-year-old from Custer, S.D., received a double lung transplant Aug. 4, 2003. The day before, they had been Alicia's lungs.
The 17-year-old died seven years ago from a stroke.
Alicia's mother, Cheryl Burroughs-Horne, of Harrison, Idaho, said Kitchen was one of eight people who received her daughter's organs, including lungs, liver, kidneys and corneas.
Burroughs-Horne, 44, and Kitchen met for the first time Monday.
"All I know is we were a perfect match," Kitchen said of the organ donation.
In seven years, she said, her body has shown no sign of rejecting the lungs. Her own were damaged by primary pulmonary hypertension.
Two years after receiving Alicia's lungs, Kitchen met a woman at a support group who said that allowing her son's organs to be donated was the hardest decision of her life — and one she would never regret.
"Her story made me know I had to contact my donor's family," Kitchen said.
Though she wrote the organ-donation advocacy group LifeSource in 2005 seeking to meet the donor family, Burroughs-Horne was not ready to meet her.
"I probably read Kitchen's letter a hundred times, but I was just not ready to accept the fact that Alicia was gone," Burroughs-Horne said.
But in 2009 Burroughs-Horne was diagnosed with lung cancer.
"After I was diagnosed with cancer, I knew I had to contact Denise," Burroughs-Horne said.
They sat in a motel lobby, sharing photos and memories. They talked about Alicia, who would be 24 now. Would she have been married? Would she have gone to veterinary school as she'd dreamed?
Both agreed there was wisdom in what Burroughs-Horne's own mother once told her, that God doesn't give you any more than you can handle.
"I'm blessed that Denise was the one God picked," Burroughs-Horne said.
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