By Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — Becky Wright, principal at Church of the Ascension School here, inspires her teachers in many ways.
This summer, she topped them all by giving a piece of herself — literally.
On June 30, Wright donated her kidney to Becca Northcott, the school’s former Spanish teacher.
“Her willingness and her generosity to be able to change my life the way she has,” started Northcott . . . but then couldn’t finish.
It leaves her speechless.
The fight for life
At age 13, Northcott developed an autoimmune disorder that attacks the blood cells near the skin.
Because the kidneys are vascular, she said, it also attacked the capillaries in her kidney, causing permanent damage.
At 14, Northcott went on dialysis and discovered she would need a transplant.
“I was on dialysis for six months and was able to maintain with medication until I was about 16 or 17,” she said. “And then they started looking at needing a kidney.”
Northcott’s parents were unable to donate due to health reasons, and her siblings were minors at the time, ruling them out as well.
That’s when she got put on the list to receive a kidney from a donor.
“I was on the list for about three months when I got my first kidney,” said Northcott.
“But a lot of people don’t realize that when you get a transplant — it doesn’t matter what transplant it is — they don’t last forever,” she said.
So from age 17 to 28, life went back to normal for Northcott. But in 2014, she began an active search for another donor.
And she kept her principal informed.
“I told Becky, ‘This is what’s happening. I’m going to need a kidney. I’m on the list, so if I get a call during school, I’m taking the call and I’m leaving,’” said Northcott.
“And I’m the one who finds a sub,” said Wright, “which is why I need to know these things.”
One day, Wright mentioned to Northcott that if she didn’t have so much on her plate, she’d get tested to see if she was a match.
“A lot of people will say that and don’t follow up,” said Northcott. “It’s a huge life-changing thing, and I’m not sure they’ve thought it all the way through.”
But not Wright.
A few months later, she told Northcott she wanted to do it.
“I was floored,” said Northcott.
Wright was tested and discovered she was a match.
In the months that followed, she spent her days off going through rigorous health testing in preparation for surgery.
All the while, the women still hadn’t announced what was going on to the rest of the school.
“I didn’t want to tell everybody about it because I didn’t want everybody to get all excited until we had the final date,” said Wright.
Once they had it, Northcott made the announcement to Ascension staff.
“When everybody found out it was actually going through and I had a donor here in school, they were very excited,” she said.
A remarkable ride
Northcott’s journey leading up to her second transplant resembled a roller coaster.
Northcott, who taught Spanish at Ascension until this spring, and her husband Peter couldn’t have children of their own because of her kidney problems. So they decided to adopt.
But things didn’t go quite as planned.
Their daughter was born May 4, just days after Northcott’s last day of teaching.
In the same short stretch of time, Peter started a new job and Northcott’s mom passed away. All with the transplant looming.
Northcott attributes her strength during the tough times to her upbringing.
“We were kind of raised with a ‘do what you need to do’ mentality,” she said.
“It’s not going to do any good to just sit back and feel sorry for yourself,” she continued. “If you don’t like it, do something about it.”
Despite her strength, Northcott’s health problems required her to rely on others for help.
Fortunately, Wright was there for her every step of the way.
Wright to the rescue
Donating an organ is something Wright never imagined she’d do.
“I had organ donation on my license, but just thought it would be after I passed away,” she said.
But when this opportunity arose, Wright couldn’t shake the feeling she was meant to be the donor, despite her nerves.
“The Holy Spirit put the heavy on my heart and wouldn’t go away,” said Wright. “I finally had to listen.”
Her decision to say “yes” was easy when she thought about who was receiving her kidney.
“[Northcott’s] personality, who she is, her faith and fundamentals and everything she’s about is honestly the reason I wanted to help her,” said Wright.
“I don’t know if I would’ve done it for just anybody,” she continued, “but to hear her stories these past three years — she so deserves it.”
Despite the torment that came with waiting for a kidney, Northcott maintained an upbeat attitude.
“She’s always so positive, so happy- go-lucky,” said Wright. “You would never know everything she’s dealing with.”
“In the three years she was not feeling so hot, most of the community had no idea what her health issues were,” she added.
When Wright told Northcott she would donate her kidney, Northcott was elated.
“She tells me, and I fall a little bit to pieces,” said Northcott.
In the months leading up to the surgery, life was hectic for Northcott and Wright.
Wright traveled with other principals to the Holy Land, getting home just weeks before the surgery.
Northcott and her husband spent seven weeks out of town waiting to bring their baby home and got back nine days before the surgery.
“The way everything worked out between the adoption and the Israel trip and the transplant — you know it was God,” said Northcott.
“There was no way everything else was going to work out that way,” she added.
The surgery was successful for both women. And although the recovery was tough, both are doing well.
The experience left Wright digging deeper.
“My husband [Steve] now gives platelets, and we never talked about that before this,” said Wright.
“Everybody can do something in some way, shape or form to help others,” she said.
The faith of both women felt tested — and affirmed — from the experience.
“Even though it feels like it’s never going to end and you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, God truly does have a plan in the end,” said Northcott.
“If you’re willing to go through it and suffer with Christ, at the end, everything is made new,” she added.
Northcott remains inspired by God working through Wright to bring her out of dark times.
“It’s so humbling to know someone would give a piece of themselves so that you could live,” said Northcott. “As hard as it was then is how fulfilled I feel now.
“Because by the grace of God, I was able to keep going. He has blessed my life immensely.”