Grace LaSell: 2024 Riley Champion
With a song in her heart and a golf club in her hand, this teen is living her life to the fullest.
Grace LaSell went into kidney failure at 12 years old due to an autoimmune disease that progressed silently until the situation was critical. Within one day she went from diagnosis to dialysis, from being a seemingly healthy child to having a lifelong condition. She received a kidney transplant in 2021, but her body rejected the new kidney. That's two tough hands to be dealt.
But Grace, now 16, doesn't make her medical situation her identity. “People who meet Grace outside of the hospital never dream that she is a kid who has a severe, chronic medical condition,” said Amy Wilson, M.D., a pediatric nephrologist at Riley Children's Health. “Grace is a delightful young lady. She lights up a room.”
What Grace does identify with is her favorite sport, golf. She competes for Columbus East High School. Plus, she is involved in show choir, plays the piano and has a lead role in her high school’s musical, Chicago.
It’s a lot to juggle, especially when you add in driving to Riley Children’s three times a week for dialysis. Those days begin at 5:15 a.m. But with the support of a great medical team, her teachers and a family of faith, Grace has done a remarkable job of maintaining all the elements of a normal life.
Dr. Wilson points out the benefits of Grace’s approach. “The more that people who need dialysis stay active both physically and mentally, in all of the things that make them who they are, truly they are better off.” Her mother, Laura Nelson, reports she looks and feels better than ever today. She is thriving.
“Everyone knows someone who has needed or will need Riley,” said Dr. Wilson. “But they often don’t realize that. Many kids have significant medical issues that are invisible. The reality is, there are a lot of Graces in the world.”
Grace’s background in performing will make her a great Riley Champion. “She has spoken at the IU Dance Marathon,” said Laura. “And she is thinking about her senior project. Her brain is already wrapped around how to make her role as a Riley Champion even bigger.”