BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Reese Burdette, who was badly burned in a house fire and hospitalized for 664 days, finally went home to her family farm last year where she faced yet another health crisis.
Reese was 7-year-old when she suffered burns on over one-third of her body, and severe damage to her heart and lungs. She was in a coma for four months and at the Johns Hopkins Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for nearly two years.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,”
In May 2016, the Hopkins doctors and nurses who had grown to love her said their goodbyes.
The town of Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, turned out to welcome her home.
Reese thrives on Windy Knoll Farm with her family and the animals she loves. And for one wonderful year Reese had her life back, winning ribbons in the show ring. Also, Reese — who studied in the hospital — was right on grade level at school.
But everything changed this past September.
“Her bloodwork had started to show signs that her kidneys had had enough and she needed some help,” Reese’s mother said.
That help would come in the form of a new kidney.
“Mommy got tested and lots of other people,” Reese told WJZ.
But because of the many blood transfusions Reese had undergone at Hopkins, finding a donor was very difficult. Finally, 32-year-old Alyssa Hussey, a special education teacher in Virginia, was found to be a match.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I would have done it for just anyone,” Hussey said. “She’s probably the strongest little girl I know. To go through what she’s been through and to see her attitude and demeanor towards everything.”
The surgery was initially tough on Alyssa, but now both are healing — feeling good and becoming close friends.
[Reporter: How do you thank someone for giving you a kidney?]
“Umm, give her a nice kidney pillow,” Reese said.
Reese also gave her a bracelet, with “hero” in her hand-writing.
Fear of infection has Reese schooling from home for awhile. Ask her the best part of having a new kidney and she’ll say finally being able to eat what she wants.
[Reporter: You had to watch out for dairy?]
“Yes,” Reese replied.
[Reporter: How can you live here and not be able to enjoy dairy?”]
“I know,” she said.
Now Reese says she’s on a steady diet of cheese. And a young woman from Virginia, who was once a stranger, is forever welcome at Windy Knoll Farm.
“Hussey didn’t throw a football, she didn’t shoot a basketball, she didn’t sing a song, but she’s a real-life hero walking through a crowd of people every day — and you wouldn’t know it,” Reese’s father said.
Reese will eventually get her trach tube removed and may need another kidney transplant when she’s older. Next fall, she’ll head off to middle school.