Curtis Kingfisher will always carry a piece of Escondido’s Mariee Mena with him.
At 12 years old, Curtis received a kidney donation from Mariee, a former Escondido High School and University of Oklahoma softball player, which gave him a second chance at life. Since then, he and his family have been deeply connected with both the Menas and the OU family.
When Curtis was born, he was not breathing. He was in a coma for a couple of weeks, and Floyd and Rhonda Kingfisher, who live in Salina, Okla., were told their son may only have a short time to live.
“At one point, the doctors told us, ‘You might want to make funeral arrangements,’” Floyd recalls. “They didn’t have any hope, but praise the Lord, through prayer he started to wake up.”
Doctors then told the Kingfishers that Curtis would probably be in the hospital for about six months, but a month later, he was already headed home. The Kingfishers were also informed that Curtis would likely need a kidney transplant at some point in his life. When he was 12 years old, Curtis was on dialysis for 10 hours a day and in need of a new organ.
“We were doing home dialysis and he was on the machine 10 hours a day,” Floyd shares. “He would go to sleep, we’d wake him up, he’d unhook himself and take a shower, go to school. That’s what he did but he kept getting worse. (We were) praying for a miracle and we got a call, and the rest is history, like they say.”
The call was that there was a kidney for Curtis. The life-saving transplant came from Mariee, who died on Oct. 6, 2009, from brain injuries caused in a motorcycle accident. Mena, an Escondido High School softball star and 2002 graduate, was part of two Women’s College World Series teams and a 2004 Second-Team All-Big 12 outfielder as a Sooner. She was 26 years old when she was a passenger in a crashed motorcycle and died.
Mariee’s mother, Isela, describes her daughter as someone who “had a radiant smile and a laugh that was very contagious.” Mariee was a teacher’s aide at Windsor Hills Elementary in Oklahoma City, and following her accident, many letters were sent to the Menas. One that stands out to Isela was from parents whose daughter started to love math again after having a math lab with Mariee, just one of the many ways Mariee impacted those around her.
“Mariee was full of energy and loved life,” Isela says. “There was nothing she couldn’t do and wouldn’t do. But mostly she had a nurturing heart. Her heart would shine in the way that she talked about her family and friends, teammates and her students.”
The Kingfishers were just told general details about Curtis’ donor – that she was a 26-year-old female who was a former athlete. The next day when Curtis was in the recovery room, Floyd picked up the local paper and flipped to the sports page, a ritual he and Curtis shared. There, he saw an article about Mariee passing away, and he then realized that she must be Curtis’ donor.
“I always said God wanted me to know who the donor was, and I believe God wanted the families to get together, so we have,” Floyd says. “Over the years we’ve been with the Mena family so much. They’re a blessing and some of the most wonderful people you’d ever want to meet.”
The transplant was coordinated through LifeShare, which is “a nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO) dedicated to the recovery of organs and tissue for transplant services,” according to its website. OU Medical Center, where Curtis received his transplant, is one of five transplant centers in the state of Oklahoma with which LifeShare works closely.
Rhonda says that she and her family are grateful for the fact that Mariee chose to be an organ donor, and she encourages others to do the same.
“I try to encourage everyone to be an organ donor, to get that little red heart on their drivers license because without that, without Mariee putting that little heart on her drivers license, we may not have Curtis here.”
Mariee’s generosity gave Curtis and five others a second chance at life, and that has forged a deep bond between the Menas and Kingfishers.
Last year, Curtis graduated from Salina High School, and Mariee’s mom made the trip from California to the small Oklahoma town to watch the milestone. Curtis even wore Mariee’s graduation gown for the ceremony and had her initials and jersey number included on his class ring.
“That was something special, and it always is with the Mena family when you’re around them,” Floyd says. “It’s always special … I don’t know the words to describe it, but they’re a blessing.”
The Kingfishers have been just as much of a blessing to the Mena family. Isela recalls the first time she met Curtis at an OU softball game, saying he captured her heart that day. Curtis hugged her tight and didn’t seem to want to let go.