PACIFIC, Mo. — It's a well-established fact that teachers are everyday heroes for all they do for the students in their classrooms. But one prekindergarten teacher went above and beyond when she gave her 5-year-old student the gift of a lifetime: her kidney.
Robin Mach — Miss Robin to her students — started teaching Kayleigh Kulage back in 2019. Just like the other kids in her class, Kayleigh is a happy, inquisitive and bright girl. But Kayleigh has had to fight for her life since she was born prematurely at 26 weeks, according to her mother, Desiree Kulage.
"If she didn't have like these tubes on her or anything, you wouldn't really know anything's wrong with her," she told KTVI News. "She never cries. She never complains about pain."
Kayleigh weighed just over 1 pound at birth and spent 158 days in the NICU. She was diagnosed early on with end-stage kidney failure, according to her GoFundMe page. Kulage said Kayleigh has lived her life with a catheter and had to undergo dialysis, making simple tasks like bath time painful and difficult.
"She has never had a bath, like a normal bath," Kulage said.
That's where Mach came in. When Kayleigh's health required her to be home, Mach was able visit her and provide schooling there. That's when she realized she could do more.
"She needed it. I wanted her to have a normal life and go to school," Mach told KTVI. "This is how we can help her get there."
Once Mach found out she was a match for Kayleigh, the decision to donate her kidney was an easy one, according to mom.com.
The Kulage family was thrilled to tell their daughter that her long wait was finally over. No more catheter, no more dialysis — she'd finally have a shot at a normal life.
"A whole new chapter," Kayleigh's dad, Josh Kulage, told KTVI.
The surgery, which took place at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis, went off without a hitch. And while the first day of recovery was long and scary, Kayleigh now has a healthy, working kidney and a new lease on life.
Mach was barely up and walking herself before she reached out to the Kulages to see what more she could do.
"She's incredible," Kulage told KTVI. "She was offering to do our laundry and take me back and forth. And I'm like, 'You just had major surgery. You need to go home and rest.'"
Kulage said she can't wait for Kaleigh to experience a world of firsts: a dip in the ocean, a dive in a swimming pool, even just a normal bath — all things that would have been impossible for her if not for Mach's priceless gift.
"I don't know how to thank her," she said. "So, all I keep on saying is thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you."