CARTHAGE, Mo. — This act of love takes the “Tigers Together” motto to a whole new level.
On Sept. 28, Chelsey Abbott – a Steadley third grade teacher – will donate one of her kidneys to Jason Worrall – a special needs teacher at the Carthage Junior High School. So many events led up to this moment … It didn’t really start when Chelsey learned Jason needed a kidney in the spring of this year. And it wasn’t even when Jason’s wife, Jenny, became Chelsey’s mentor two years ago …
Why Are You Doing This For Us?
Joplin native Chelsey (Pippin) was about 16 years old when she learned about the ability to donate a kidney. The human body needs only one to function, and she considered putting her name on the national list as an eligible kidney for a stranger.
“I was just intrigued by this idea,” Chelsey said. “I remember the moment – I was having lunch with a friend and I told him I wanted to do this – and he said, ‘Don’t do that. Someday, you will know someone who needs a kidney and that’s when it’ll matter the most to you.’”
And so life went on. Chelsey earned her elementary education degree from Missouri Southern State University, married William Abbott in 2015 and together they had Lincoln (now 3). She interned in 2019 at Steadley Elementary School in Carthage under the guidance of third grade teacher Jenny Worrall – who is now in her 10th year of teaching and has learned about kidney disease her whole marriage.
Jason and Jenny Worrall have been married 22 years. When he was 21, Jason was diagnosed with Polycystic kidney disease – an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts develop in the kidneys. But it never hindered his ability to live a healthy life. Together, they have raised Libbie (eighth grade) and Hunter (fourth grade). In the spring this year, they signed up Hunter for a traveling baseball team, a sport Jason has loved and helped coach. But by the end of the season, Jenny was attending games like a single parent because Jason was confined to their home for the sake of his health. Trips were cancelled, friends and family started mowing the yard and providing meals / fundraising, and the Worrall home looked like a medical facility.
“For years we just watched Jason’s kidney function slowly go down at every single appointment,” Jenny said. “It’s been this constant heaviness on our lives. But in April we found out that the cysts were bleeding … Before we knew what was going on, Jason had days when he would pull himself up out of bed and go to work, and I didn’t know if he was going to live. In May, the doctors removed 17 pounds of kidneys from him, and he started all-night dialysis.”
Currently, Jason is living without kidneys. But that’s going to change at the end of this month because Chelsey got a very important phone call.
I Gotta Take This
In April, Chelsey called KU Medical to begin the process of finding out if she was a match for Jason.
“When I called, they said ‘this guy must be pretty special because we’ve had a lot of calls for him,” Chelsey said.
Jenny – still in disbelief – responded, “We gave the number to almost 20 people.”
After a series of phone calls, tests, questionnaires, health monitoring and meetings with doctors – everything continued to line up for Chelsey to be Jason’s match. She was a proud member of “Worrall’s Warriors” and witnessed Carthage’s compassion for Jason.
“I was still new to this community, and I watched so many people support this family,” Chelsey said. “I could tell that all these people wouldn’t be rooting for this family if they didn’t deserve it. I’m excited to do this – I’ve always wanted to do this – and the way I see it, I’m not just giving it to Jason … I’m giving it to the family. I can thrive with just one kidney, I’m the perfect match – it’s my good health tax – I’m just paying it forward.”
At the beginning of September, the phone call came in the middle of the day. Chelsey was teaching her class, and saw KU was calling. She looked at her third graders excitedly and said, “Guys, I gotta take this” and stepped out in the hall for the confirmation that the transplant surgery would take place Sept. 28.
Thank You Isn’t Enough
“It’s so humbling when someone does something so selfless and sacrifices so much for you,” Jenny said. “The overly generous is unexpected. Our community has been amazing, and we are so, so grateful. We have a new kind of hope, we’re making plans, Jason will have a good long life with me and the kids … and it’s because of Chelsey. ‘Thank you’ isn’t enough and when I tried to tell her that, she said ‘You don’t have to thank me – I just want Jason to live.’”
Chelsey said this experience has taught her so much about the process she’s wanted to be a part of for years, and advocates for others to do the same. For a stranger, sure – but it’s a special moment in time when you can do it for someone you know and care about.
“Any teacher will tell you that their team is their lifeline,” Chelsey said. “We could not do our jobs without each other. The best grade level teams aren’t coworkers – they’re family.”