A passionate advocate


Since almost losing her own, Kelly Ellinger ’09 knows what a gift life is.

At age 35, she began experiencing back pains that moved into her chest. One sleepless night, she drove herself to the hospital, where doctors determined she was having a heart attack.

Physicians did what they could, but a priest was called in to give Kelly final rites.

“Having the priest blessing me was the most frightening experience,” she said. “I was foggy and weak and I kept saying to the Lord, ‘Not yet – I haven’t done anything great yet.’ I said it aloud, but the priest couldn’t hear me.”

Her family wasn’t ready to accept a death sentence. After signing paperwork promising not to sue if she died en route, an ambulance took Ellinger to a Cleveland hospital despite a furious snowstorm.

The team of a dozen doctors vetoed numerous diagnoses each day. Three agonizing weeks later, a pulmonary specialist confirmed she had Churg Strauss Syndrome (CSS) – an incurable disease in which blood cells attack the body’s own tissue. Ninety-eight percent of the time CSS is diagnosed via an autopsy. To survive, she would need a new heart.

Months later, Kelly’s cell phone vibrated in her pocket as she was at a church learning about a Jerusalem tour she was certain was a pipe dream. A heart was available.

One month and one year after her  transplant, Ellinger was baptized in the Jordan River. While in the  Holy Land, she begged God to show His  purpose in saving her .

When she returned home, she began classes at Malone University with the intent of working for LifeBanc, an organ procurement organization. She was hired a week after graduation as a transplant coordinator.

“I’ve been on both sides of it,” Ellinger said. “There was a family who did this for me. On the other side of it, that’s the worst day of a family’s life, knowing that they are losing someone and there’s no turning it around. So I do dual advocacy – I work for the family in need, but I also work for the sick person. Most importantly, I know that I’m doing what God wants me to do. I have a purpose, and I’m doing something that matters.”