My phone rang on the way to the airport. It was Chive Charities’ Angie Cone and she had her sassy pants on. “John, you’re going to Lincoln, Nebraska.”
“It’s funny you say that, Angie, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Pinnacle Bank Arena, but Billy Joel is actually playing at Madison Square Garden.”
“That’s cute John, but we have a girl trapped in her house. She’s also allergic to her house, so Javi’s going to meet you at the airport and make sure you go west like a good boy. Piano Man can wait.”
“I was actually going because I wanted to hear Billy play 'New York State of Mind' IN NEW YORK, Angie.” I’ll score points wherever I can with that girl, even a flimsy point.
She said the current environment at Kenze’s home had placed her in our “red sector,” as a humid summer descended on Lincoln. Outside her home wasn’t any better. Here’s Kenze having a seizure at the local WalMart with her service dog Makki performing a series of compressions to bring her out of it.
O.K., Piano Man can wait.
Kenze has a series of syndromes that domino one after the other. It started with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which causes her joints to dislocate easily. EDS dominoed into postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), short-circuiting Kenze’s circulation and causing increased heart rate, blood pooling, fainting, and seizures.
All this toppled the last domino, Mast Cell Activation Disorder, meaning her cells go to battle against each other in one big allergic reaction cage match.
The doctor’s recommendation was literally, “Keep Kenze indoors and in a wheelchair to prevent fatigue and injury.” As Kenze told me, “I’m like a bubble boy… only a girl. I’m bubble girl.”
The biggest culprits, all the allergens that cause Kenze to react, are present in her home, especially her bedroom. Mold and musty carpet were causing Kenze to have multiple episodes a day, from seizures to “symptoms that resemble a coma.” I still don’t know what that means, and Kenze’s eyes filled with tears when I asked. I’ll leave it at that.
The house needed to be gutted, completely renovated, now, before the heat of summer closed in on Kenze completely, both outdoors and in. I asked what color wood she liked, she chose Aspen CW-462. A fine choice. When I departed, I asked Kenze if she could make this year’s Green Gala? There was that pause, you know that pause that happens when you’ve asked the dumbest of questions. My overdeveloped sense of optimism gets me in trouble sometimes. “About a million things would have to go right with my health but I’ll try, O.K.?”
Angie was right, I needed to be on that plane. On my way back to Austin, I got a text from a friend. Turns out, Billy Joel rescheduled his concert due to a viral infection, Piano Man didn’t sing us a song. And McSorley’s Tavern was temporarily shut down to due health violations. I would have been on a plane to nowhere in NYC. Fate, it seemed, had played its own hand.
Renovations would cost $15,000. Kenze told me I couldn’t ask for any more than that. “There are people out there who need it more than me.” I remember thinking, “We’ll see what theCHIVE community has to say about that.” A few days later, Chive Nation politely declined Kenze’s offer to raise $15,000, and raised $70,000 instead. Enough to completely overhaul Kenze’s entire home and pay for her to go to college to become a nurse.
Within 48 hours, volunteers were on-site figuring out what needed to be done, ordering new flooring, molding, paint, everything. The volunteers, as you can imagine, were Cornhusker Chivers Brian Volz and Brent Smoyer.
When the construction crew departed, they left the Pardes’ house keys under the door as requested, with a new lanyard of course.
The house’s molding was infested with mold.
Now a fresh start…everywhere.
The new kitchen.
Before: Kenze wouldn’t dare go in the basement. Since the house flooded a few years back, it was simply a no-fly zone.
This is the basement today. Now Kenze can hang out and watch the Cornhuskers play on Saturday with her family.
The living room, so fresh, so clean.
And finally, here’s her new bedroom. The rotten carpet and walls are long gone, replaced with new floorboards and crown molding.
Perhaps the best news of all…when I spoke to Kenze, she hadn’t had a single allergic reaction in three weeks. In that same timespan before the renovations, she had two dozen episodes. The plan worked, everything worked. It worked so well in fact…
Two Fridays ago, our secretary came in my office. “There’s somebody here who wants to see you.” I get that a lot, don’t usually care too much. “Get them a beer and tell them I’ll be out in 5-10 minutes.”
“Kenze? Like Kenze Kenze?!”
Just three months prior, venturing outside her home was a nearly impossible task. Kenze had flown with her family to Austin for our annual Green Gala. She hadn’t flown on a plane since before she was diagnosed. She’d actually done it!
This is Kenze (and Chive Charities staffer Whitney) in front of her photo on our wall of all the recipients we’ve helped. More than 200 faces. More than 200 lives changed, many saved.
Kenze ready for the ball.
Lots of Chive Charities recipients made it to the Gala. Here’s Emberlyn losing her shit. It was late.
We’re nursing tender wounds across America right now after a merciless barrage of hurricanes and indiscriminate bullets in Las Vegas. I truly hope y’all have enjoyed Kenze’s follow-up. Her story is a heart-warming example of how much beauty and compassion Chive Nation possesses.
As uncertain as things may seem in our country, I know one thing for sure – as long as there are brave people standing up for those who need our help the most, the evil forces that assail us will never win. And it’ll be Chive Nation up front, leading the way.
* A special thanks to our Cornhusker Chivers, Angie for always being right despite my childish protests, and to our Green Members. Without this small group of unsung heroes, Kenze’s story would never have happened. It was our Green Members who first purchased Kenze’s orthopedic bed and realized there was much more we could do. Their reward was meeting Kenze at this year’s Green Gala, and that is reward enough for them. Become a Green Member RIGHT HERE!
*Also, a big thank you to McKenzie Hildreth Ring from JM Studios Omaha for providing the incredible update pictures of Kenze, Makki and her home.