Today, the gifts are opened.
Toys, ties, tricycles and more, it's all part of this season of giving.
But there is a Makawao woman whose story takes giving to another level. In her story, giving of one's self is not just an expression.
Suzy Crowell, sitting in the center of the front row, poses for a photo with her family. The rest of the family (front from left) granddaughter Christine, son Andrew, son Don Jr., and granddaughter Emily (back row from left), grandson Thomas, daughter-in-law Keri, daughter-in-law Gabriela and grandson Kristofer.
Huntington Hospital photo
In October 2010, Kathy Anderson, affectionately known as Kats, read a prayer request about a woman living in San Marino, Calif.
"It explained who she was, and it just moved me," said Anderson, who is a senior accountant with The Maui News. "Usually, we just read the emails and pray for the person, but I felt like it was a calling."
The woman was Suzy Crowell, 72, a widowed mother with two sons and four grandchildren. Crowell had been dealing with kidney failure after losing one of her kidneys to cancer. The disease progressively worsened until she was forced into dialysis two to three times a week.
"My mother took it hard," said Andrew Crowell, one of her sons. "It changes your life to be chained to a machine for five hours a day."
Adding to her misery, her husband had unexpectedly died eight years ago, said her son. The couple had plans to travel the world together.
"Surgery would give her back the mobility she needed to make some of those trips," said Andrew Crowell. "She wanted to fulfill those plans and go with some of her girlfriends."
Suzy Crowell, who is a member of the board of directors for Harvest Evangelism, said the president of the organization asked her what he could do for her.
She asked him to find her a kidney.
He sent an email with Suzy Crowell's prayer request to several affiliates, one of which fell into the email box of Anderson, a member of Grace Bible Church in Kahului.
She read the California woman's prayer request and found that they were the same blood type - B positive.
Anderson, 41, submitted her name as a potential donor and completed numerous blood tests and other examinations over the past two years. The first few donors were found to be incompatible; Anderson ended up being a perfect match.
In October 2011, she flew to the University of Southern California Keck Hospital for a week of screenings and stress tests. In April, Anderson met Suzy Crowell in-person for the first time.
"To love a total stranger, as much as I did, it's amazing. I can't describe it," said Anderson. "When we first met, it was just love. It was a wonderful experience."
When the tests were done and the results were positive, Anderson agreed to have the surgery in April.
"I thought she was an angel," said Suzy Crowell. "I didn't have to talk her into (the surgery). She wanted to do the surgery."
Anderson is a single mother with a son and a daughter and said this isn't the sort of thing she normally does. Although this was going to be the first surgery in her life, she wasn't afraid.
"The joy kept me going," said Anderson. "I wasn't scared. I was always happy. Every step I went through, I would just pray. If this is God's will, open the door and I'll be there . . . but there was a lot of resistance with everyone close to me."
Anderson's mother, Iris Nakata, traveled with her to the hospital but didn't want her to go through with the surgery.
"Originally, I didn't want her to do it because the risk was too great," said Nakata. "But she had her heart set on doing it, and I eventually saw the light too and helped her. . . . The surgery was a miraculous thing."
Nakata said that once the doctors completed the kidney transplant, the organ immediately began functioning. Doctors told her this was rare and that new kidneys typically take more time to acclimate to the host.
The surgery, however, didn't go completely as planned for Anderson.
She said the surgeon told her the operation would take around four hours, but it ended up taking 10 hours.
"I was sitting in that big hospital all by myself," said Nakata. "When I finally got word I could come see her, I just fell apart. The doctors spent extra time with the surgery for precautionary reasons. It would've been nice if they told me ahead of time."
Anderson said that because her insides were exposed for an extended period of time in the surgery, doctors had to pump gas into her to keep her organs inflated. This caused her to be filled with excess gas that was trapped in her body. The air would inhibit her movements and apply pressure to parts of her body, including her lungs.
"It was really painful," said Anderson, who said the condition has dissipated. "I figured the surgery would be painful, but it was the gas part that threw me. I couldn't breathe because the pain was so bad."
Anderson and her mom stayed in California for almost a month to give Anderson time to fully recover from the surgery. She has completely recovered, but Suzy Crowell still visits the hospital a couple times a week - but not for dialysis.
Anderson said it's normal for the donor recipient to take longer to recover.
Nakata said the extended stay in April allowed them to spend more time with the Crowell family in San Marino, where Suzy Crowell has been a member of the city council for eight years, as well as served both as mayor and vice mayor.
"I've never felt such an outpouring of love and emotion," said Nakata. "They showed us the town they lived in, took us clothes shopping, took us to their home. They're calling us and planning on doing some trips to Disneyland."
Crowell's sons, Andrew and Don, have children of their own and hope to see Anderson and her family soon.
"It was a pretty surreal experience," said Andrew Crowell. "She gave my mom her life back. She gave the greatest gift she could ever give to another."
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.
This article includes corrections from the original published on Tuesday, December 25, 2012. The Maui News apologizes for the errors.