"Billboard' child inspires friends, strangers

Tuesday, April 10, 2001 at 1:00am

Each day 12-year-old Kelly Lynn Greene faces a familiar challenge.

Just like the day before, the challenge is to live. If all goes well, she can then begin to focus on what it would be like to live a healthy, normal life as her friends do.

After surviving 17 major surgeries - most recently a liver transplant - Kelly now has hope of living a long life. A benefit will take place April 21 in Joelton to raise funds for postsurgical treatment.

Kelly was born with an inflammatory bowel disease spent the first few months of her life hooked up to feeding tubes. After a portion of her small intestine was reconstructed, Kelly continued to suffer problems such as dehydration, and she couldn't grow healthily.

By the age of 5, Kelly had both of her ears reconstructed, a broken arm repaired, her gall bladder removed and had endured several abdominal surgeries.

In April 1988, Kelly was diagnosed with a liver disease. A year later, she was diagnosed with colon cancer, resulting in eight months of chemotherapy treatments. In October of last year, her liver disease worsened, causing her lungs to fail. She was then referred to Cincinnati Children's Hospital for a liver transplant, which she received last month.

Even since Kelly received a new liver and returned home, her body still risks rejection of the transplant. She will have to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of her life. She also remains dependent on an oxygen tank.

"In 1996, liver transplants were $350,000. The medication is $10,000 a year. She's going to have health care for the rest of her life," Lisa Hartman, a friend of the family, said.

Hartman, a nurse, works with Kelly's mother, who is an administrative assistant at the Veterans Administration Hospital.

The average person can kick the common cold; however, transplant patients have a very difficult time fighting off such illnesses, Hartman explained.

This is why a fund raiser is being held. Kelly will need some kind of financial security for the future, Hartman said.

The festival will begin at 8 a.m. and last until dark "or until the last penny is dropped," Mary Butler said. Butler is the sister of one of the owners of Roma Land Florist and Gifts, which is hosting the event.

"It's wonderful to do something like this for a child," Butler said. "Our father died waiting for a heart transplant, so we can relate; we understand totally," she said.

Butler explained that the idea started off with just a bake sale, car wash and 50 percent off the store's cash-and-carry sales for that day. However, as interest grew, it turned into an all-day event.

"I didn't realize how many people were that concerned until all this started," Butler said, adding that many know Kelly as the "billboard" child because of the billboard ad that is on display around town.

The day's activities will include face painting, an antique car show, local entertainment, food, children's games and door prizes.

Kelly's church, Harper Road Free Will Baptist, has put together a cookbook dedicated to Kelly that will be for sale. Also, local songwriter Lance Smith will perform his song "The Gift of Life," which he wrote for Kelly. A CD, on which Lance sings the song with Kelly, will be for sale.

"We've been blessed by the outpouring of love, spiritual and financial support," said Kelly's mother, Debbie Greene. "Kelly is a miracle," Greene said, adding that her daughter is proof that God answers prayers.

Greene said she hopes her family's experiences will serve as an example of how Christian faith can help one overcome the worst obstacles.

Kelly said she is excited to be home and is looking forward to "more things to do," especially "going [back] to church and school."

Green said she hopes the festival will "get the word out about [the importance] of signing donor cards." She said the need for an organ transplant could happen to anyone at any time.

Kelly might be at the festival, depending on how she feels.

"When she gets well from her transplant, she just wants to do normal things ... go outside and play, ride a bike, play basketball, go to her friend's house and ride her horse, spend the night with her friends ... things she hasn't been able to do for a while," Hartman said.

"You would not believe how many people this child has inspired over the years. She just keeps on fighting and living," Hartman continued. "The doctors in Cincinnati credited her phenomenal recovery with her love of life, love of the Lord, her faith, her determination and her positive attitude.

"Everybody loves Kelly," she said.

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