Ruby Knelson

Ruby Knelson, 6, right, plays with her Barbie dolls as her mother, Kristy Knelson, looks on in the play area of their home in Daviess County on Feb. 6. Ruby has a rare liver disease and needs a transplant as soon as possible.

A few years ago, Kristy Knelson was online, looking at photographs of Chinese children who were available for adoption.

From the first glance, one little girl with short hair stole her heart.

“She was just beautiful,” Knelson said. “I just knew she was my daughter.”

Knelson was right.

For about four years now, Ruby Suzanne Li Knelson has been Kristy Knelson’s daughter.

Years earlier, Knelson and her husband, Danny Knelson, had adopted their son, Alex, 12, from Kazakhstan.

When they were ready for a second child, the Daviess County couple opted for a special-needs adoption because couples can wait up to eight years for a healthy Chinese baby. The Knelsons didn’t want to wait that long. They agreed to accept a child with mild special needs.

“(Ruby’s) problems are more serious than what we initially thought we would get,” Kristy Knelson said.

Ruby, now 6, was born with biliary atresia, a rare liver disease that scars and blocks the liver’s bile ducts. As a result, bile backs up and damages the liver.

Before the adoption, doctors in China created a drain by attaching a piece of Ruby’s intestine to her liver, but that proved to be a temporary fix.

Also, because of Ruby’s liver disease, she suffers from hepatopulmonary syndrome, which keeps her lungs from transferring oxygen to her body properly. Last year, her blood’s oxygenation levels started to dip.

In addition, Ruby has an enlarged spleen.

A liver transplant will cure all her medical issues. Ruby is on a transplant list, waiting for a donor.

The Knelson family’s bags are packed so they can rush to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis as soon as a liver becomes available. Ruby’s doctor believes that could be any day.

“He said the worst-case scenario would be in April,” Danny Knelson said. “ ... Once you get the call, you have to leave within 10 minutes.”

It takes more than three hours to drive to Indianapolis from Owensboro, and the family must arrive at Riley Hospital within four hours of receiving the call.

A child’s or teen’s liver is preferable, but doctors can use a portion of an adult liver.

Riley Hospital has a 100% survival rate for the first year after liver transplants, Kristy Knelson said.

“She’s the bravest girl I know,” Kristy Knelson said of her daughter. “She gets her blood drawn all the time.”

“She’s tough,” her dad added.

The Knelsons expect to stay in Indianapolis between four and six weeks after the surgery. Kristy Knelson is a social worker for Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Kentucky. Danny Knelson sells life insurance and Medicare supplemental insurance at Helton Insurance Agency in Calhoun.

After health insurance pays its portion of the medical bill, the Knelsons expect to owe about $16,000. However, the family will be out Kristy Knelson’s income while she takes off to be with Ruby.

Danny Knelson’s employer plans to continue his pay even during the time he is needed in Indianapolis.

Also, the Knelsons expect expenses related to the surgery to add up quickly, so they started a GoFundMe.com page titled “Ruby’s New Liver.” The goal is $10,000.

Within the first week, about $5,000 was donated. As of Tuesday morning, $6,417 had been raised.

Community support has been tremendous, the Knelsons said.

Owensboro Christian Church’s fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms conducted a fundraiser, and Sorgho Elementary School, where Ruby attends kindergarten, staged a campaign titled “Pennies for Ruby.”

Between Feb. 3 and 7, students and staff members donated coins to dress up in hats, tie-dyed clothes and pajamas.

Staff members also supported the campaign by hosting a bake sale and buying dress-down stickers.

“We’ve been really fortunate,” Danny Knelson said. “We’ve had a lot of people help out. We’ve had people give us cash here and there.”

The Knelsons have been married 18 years. For five years, they tried to have children, but it wasn’t mean to be, they said.

They adopted Ruby at age 2. She will turn 7 in March.

Ruby’s favorite activity is watching YouTube videos, and she loves to dance. During the holidays, she earned a role in Owensboro Dance Theatre’s performance of the “Nutcracker.”

She is scheduled to have a part in an upcoming presentation of “The Lion’s Tale.”

Ruby has participated in tap and ballet at ODT more than two years. She’s a good T-ball player. She loves to write, color and draw.

Friends and teachers describe Ruby as helpful, energetic and full of love.

“She immediately brightens your day ... ,” Kim Masteller, computer technician at Sorgho Elementary, said in a press release.

Anyone who wants to assist the Knelson family can go to www.GoFundMe.com and search for “Ruby’s New Liver.”

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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