PUBLISHER’S COLUMN: KAHLEN’S GIFT
I first met Kahlen Salis in 2012 when I interviewed her and her family for a three-part series I was writing called “Life & Death.”
The 3-year-old’s story about a rare bone marrow deficiency and the hope for a life-saving transplant was the first part of a series that also included a conversation with Mary Manson, who was dying from gall bladder cancer, and the family of Isaac Thompson, who at the age of 4 passed away from leukemia.
Kahlen’s story back in 2012 was a story of hope and I remember her parents, Kris and Walter, acknowledging the difficult circumstance but also focusing on their daughter’s health and well-being. And, sure enough, the bone marrow transplant was successful, she returned to Freeman and lived a happy life in spite of the health challenges that returned a number of years later.
Kahlen also knew me as the picture guy and would frequently ask if I remembered when I took her picture for the story, and if I wanted to take her picture again. And I did, again for a story in the paper that ran earlier this year, with her classmates on her last day at Freeman Public, one day before she left for the St. Louis area to await a liver transplant.
She would get that transplant, by golly, but complications ensued, and a recovery became less and less certain. Finally, last week, her mother who had consistently kept people updated on the situation via her Facebook page, posted that the 14-year-old’s body was “tired” and they would have to say goodbye. That goodbye came at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital on Aug. 16 when Kahlen passed away, surrounded by her family.
For more than 10 years, the sweet girl and her loving family lived with hope and Kahlen got to enjoy life and all of its offerings. She loved school and sports and being part of the Class of 2027. And she lived with a strong faith that is no doubt helping carry the family in this time of unimaginable grief.
We are all grieving with them, with mom Kris, dad Walter, brother Ricky, “bonus parent” Heather, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and others who were close to Kahlen. This hurts, particularly because Kahlen was such a fighter and came through the hardest of obstacles, until she could no longer do so.
On Thursday, the Class of 2027, of which Oliver is a part, will walk together from the school to the St. Paul Lutheran Church and sit together for the memorial service of a beloved classmate. There will be a varying emotions, tears and lessons to carry with them, but also wonderful memories of a beautiful friend and classmate who left far too soon.
Life is precious and it’s impossible to understand why Kahlen was taken, and that’s something that her family and friends will wrestle with for the rest of their own lives. But my hope is that they will cling to the memories and the years that she did have, and all of those she touched along her short journey here on earth.
I, for one, am blessed to have known her.
Jeremy Waltner has been working full-time at The Courier since returning to his home community of May of 1999.