On May 17, 2018, Kelly Asbell of Valparaiso was nearing her final breaths. Today, she is making the most of every day by living her life to the fullest and spreading kindness wherever she goes.
“Kindness has no boundaries,” she said. “One simple random act of kindness can affect the world one person at a time.” At the young age of 10, Asbell was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease in which mucus blocks the airways in the lungs and causes damages the lungs and digestive system. She was told she would not live past 20, but she stayed active and attended all her treatments, and she celebrated her 40th birthday on March 21.
“I always thought as long as I was compliant with my illness, then my illness would never get the best of me,” she said. Asbell has celebrated every birthday since turning 21 by doing random acts of kindness around the community. For her 21st, she performed 21 acts, and so on. She spent her 40th birthday this year carrying out 40 random acts of kindness with her family.
Some of her favorites included hiding small toys at a local park for kids to find, paying for others’ birthday cakes at Dairy Queen, and putting dollar bills in coloring books at a local dollar store. Her actions even motivated others to perform their own random acts of kindness in their communities.
“You never know what one act of kindness will do for another individual, and it’s so important because just one small act can have a ripple effect,” she said.
One day after her 40th birthday, Asbell was hospitalized for serious health issues. She continued to decline over the next month, and her doctors decided to place her on a transplant list for new lungs. Due to her severe condition, she was placed highly on the list.
Thirteen days later on May 17, Asbell and her family received a call that someone was about to pass away and lungs would be available to her. The following day, she underwent the five-hour transplant surgery that saved her life.
“It’s been 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” she said. “I wasn’t prepared enough about the fact that I would be breathing through somebody I don’t even know, and that someone who’s deceased now lives inside of my body.”
Post-surgery, Asbell and her family are adapting to her new life. She is “learning a new body all over again,” adjusting to new medicines, relearning how to walk, and beginning to run again.
“I think the scariest part is knowing that at any day my body could reject these lungs,” she said.
As a mother of 10-year-old twins, something else that has scared Asbell and continues to scare her is missing out on her children’s lives. Her utmost desire is to see them graduate high school.
“The reason I went through the transplant was so that I could be given more days with them,” she said.
Asbell has been journaling to her kids since she was pregnant with them. As they grew up, she prayed that she would make it to see their next milestones — their first steps, their first words, their first day of kindergarten. She has already bought them birthday gifts up until age 18, as well as their wedding gifts.
“I want to be there so desperately, to be a part of their lives, that even after I’m long gone they’ll still have my journals and they’ll still have the gifts and they’ll still have those things left behind of a mom who did everything she could,” she said.
In addition to a loving and supportive family and friend base, Asbell said her faith has carried her throughout this journey. Through all the pain and hardships, she “still chooses joy,” a phrase she uses to end most of her posts on Facebook.
“All these breaths that have been given to me after May 18 are basically borrowed breaths,” she said. “I should not physically be here. It is by the grace of God that I am here. My biggest fear is not taking this second chance at life to the fullest.”
Asbell lives her life to the fullest by spreading kindness throughout her community, not only through her yearly acts of kindness, but also through the organizations to which she devotes herself. She is heavily involved with her church, Valparaiso Nazarene Church, and its “Night to Shine” event, a yearly prom held for people with special needs, as well as 500 Turkeys, a ministry that provides Thanksgiving dinners to 500+ families each year.
“It always has to be Jesus, others, then yourself,” she said. “That’s what sums up my life as I try to live as He would want me to live.”
With her strong faith and her family by her side, Asbell continues to spread love and inspire those around her. Instead of fearing each new day, she makes each new day count by filling it with people and experiences.
“Your time is more valuable than anything, because you never know when it’s your last breath,” she said. “I’m thankful for every breath, even the ones that hurt, and I still choose joy.”