Her dreams live on
Following the death of Chico State nursing student, friends pitch in to continue her legacy
During the night of Sept. 22, 2013, Kayla Kriech received news that would forever change her life—and, it turns out, the lives of many others.
Kriech was in her kitchen when the phone rang and she learned that Kristina Chesterman, a close friend and Chico State nursing classmate, had been struck by a motorist while bicycling home from the library, where she’d completed a marathon study session for the first big exam of the fall term.
“I was very dramatic about it: I screamed while on the phone, spun in a circle and sat down on the floor,” Kriech recalled. “I didn’t know what to think.”
Kriech raced to Enloe Medical Center, where she joined Chesterman’s other close friends and instructor Darcy Hostettler-Lewis, a nurse at Feather River Hospital. They met Chesterman’s parents, David and Sandra, as well as hometown friends who had driven three hours from Livermore.
“Her mom essentially told us we needed to say goodbye to her,” Kriech said, “and that’s when we realized how serious the situation was.”
Chesterman succumbed to her injuries two days later. She was 21. The 19-year-old at the wheel of the SUV that hit her was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and gross vehicular manslaughter; he will face trial Aug. 25.
Hostettler-Lewis pointed to the fact that the accused, Riley Dean Hoover, allegedly had a blood-alcohol level of .30 when he was arrested, and that police also have alleged he was part of a drug ring. “She was studying for 12 hours to be a nurse and help people,” she said. “There’s anger because of that juxtaposition. It’s frustrating for the world, I think.”
Though she didn’t complete nursing school, Chesterman is a life-saver nonetheless. She was an organ donor—her heart, liver, kidneys and pancreas have gone to recipients ranging from a 9-month-old infant to a 64-year-old retired nurse. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg; she’s also the inspiration for a medical facility that Kriech, Hostettler-Lewis and a dozen others are working to establish.
The Kristina Chesterman Memorial Clinic will be built in Ozu Abam, Nigeria, next to an existing health center. It will focus on treating women, children and patients suffering from diabetes and/or hypertension. The complex will include a dormitory for visiting health providers who’ll help train local practitioners.
“I thought it was a crazy idea but I loved it,” Kriech said. “I knew this was going to be an amazing way to honor her, knowing that Kristina did want to go to Africa for mission work.”
Her friends had considered going on a medical mission in her honor, Hostettler-Lewis said, “but why not do something more permanent, which will continue to help people and honor Kristina year after year?”
To get the ball rolling, Hostettler-Lewis reached out to Janice Walker of Project SAVE (Salvage All Valuable Equipment), a Chico-based nonprofit that sends donated medical supplies around the world. Walker connected her with James Umekwe. A Nigerian-born philanthropist who constructed Upon This Rock Medical Center in Ozu Abam, Umekwe offered to devote a portion of his property to the clinic.
Once the building goes up, Project SAVE will equip it.
The total cost is estimated between $80,000 and $100,000—a fraction of what it would take for a comparable facility in the United States. Fundraising has commenced, boosted by national media coverage, and surpassed $5,000 ahead of fundraiser events.
“Things have fallen into place in a pretty amazing way,” Hostettler-Lewis said. “There’s something that’s happening that feels bigger than all of us. We don’t know how to explain it; it’s just there.”
“It’s gone global on many levels,” Hostettler-Lewis said. “There are lots of ways to define who you’re responsible for, and I think you help where you can and help where you’re needed. The fact that Kristina was already thinking globally at 21, not just where her next margarita was going to come from, shows she was an extraordinary person.”
Among the many things Chesterman left behind is a bucket list—experiences she hoped to have during her lifetime. The 25 items include “learn to fly a plane” and “break up a fight between two guys over me”; a majority of them relate to travel.
Her most stirring wish: “Save someone’s life.” That will happen through the clinic, but she’s already touched the life of Susan Vieira, the aforementioned retired nurse, who lives in the Bay Area.
Vieira received Chesterman’s heart in a transplant operation. After discovering the donor’s identity, she met the Chesterman family and told them she intends to complete the bucket list, picking up where Kristina left off. Moreover, Hostettler-Lewis said, “Susan is planning to go to Nigeria on the day of the clinic’s dedication so Kristina’s heart will be there figuratively and literally.”
Vieira is scheduled to come to Chico along with Chesterman’s parents on May 3, the night before a Fundraising fun run, to help raise awareness for the project.
“Something Susan has been saying is Kristina’s dreams have the right to make it—Kristina had so many good ideas and so many things she wanted to see happen in the world before her untimely death,” Hostettler-Lewis said. “We couldn’t save her life, but we can save her dreams.”