WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. –
Nov. 13, 2017 – Hazel Niemitalo is
two years old now and handling her new kidney and anti-rejection drugs well.
The outlook last year was not as bright for the daughter of Kenny and Maria
Niemitalo from Trinity. Hazel suffered from congenital nephrotic syndrome, a
genetic condition which causes a defect in the kidneys.
The need for a donor was immediate. So, the new parents started
telling family and friends and making pleas through social media. But it was the
story shared on American Ninja Warrior (ANW), a reality competition program on
NBC, that reached Hazel’s donor.
Kenny Niemitalo started competing on ANW before Hazel was
born. At the 2016 competition in Atlanta (his third year competing), his
profile story featured the need for a kidney donor for his daughter. Amy Schlee
was watching that night from her home in Oneonta, N.Y., and decided to make a
call to Wake
Forest Baptist Medical Center to see if she might
be a match for Hazel.
Dozens of other good Samaritans made that same call, but Schlee
was the match given the opportunity to donate.
“It’s hard to comprehend because we didn’t know her from
Adam,” said Maria Niemitalo. “She was a complete stranger who wanted to help.”
On December 20, 2016, Schlee fulfilled her desire to help
someone in need of a kidney and Hazel received that life-saving gift at the Abdominal
Organ Transplant Program at Wake Forest Baptist.
“It was a wonderful experience,” shared Schlee. “I have
no regrets, and I would encourage anyone to consider it.”
Physicians with the Abdominal Organ Transplant Program helped
transplant organs in 155 patients, including Hazel, last fiscal year ending
The transplant program is the largest kidney and pancreas
transplant center in North Carolina and one of the 35 most active in the United
“Transplantation is the ultimate team sport,” said Robert
J. Stratta, M.D., professor of surgery and medical director of the Abdominal Organ
Transplant Program since 2001. “These results could not have been achieved
without the contributions of a number of dedicated individuals as well as
institutional vision and commitment.”
Now, Hazel has her new kidney and her parents remain
grateful for so much help coming together at the right time.
“God and the show (ANW),” said Maria. “That’s what I
attribute the donation connection to. My husband started competing on the show
as a fun thing to do, but now we know why he was on it.”