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Luft Tuff: Minnesota girl receives Charles City teen's liver (with photos)

CHARLES CITY | On July 7, 2017, Jeannie Westby and her husband, Pete, received a call from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The call was one bearing good news: a liver was available for Jeannie's daughter, 15-year-old Faith, whose own liver was starting to fail. The price, however, was that it would be the liver of 15-year-old Logan Luft, a Charles City teen who died from injuries sustained in an ATV accident July 4.

The Westbys were flown into Rochester from Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, that day, and Faith underwent surgery for the liver replacement. It was successful, but Jeannie was initially overcome with mixed emotions.

"I think as a recipient, you're not prepared for how thankful and how sad you are," she said. "It took me a while to work through the fact there's a set of parents that don't have their child."

Now, however, the Lufts and Westbys have become good friends, according to Wendy Luft, Logan's mother. The Westbys plan to visit Charles City on Jan. 29, and see much of the community where Logan thrived and was well-respected.

The connection between Logan and Faith was apparent right away, Wendy said. She added that despite Logan's death, it was important to focus on the positive aspect of the liver donation.

"It's hard for her (Jeannie) to think Logan's loss was for their gain," she said. "But like I told her, Logan passed away no matter what ... the fact he gets to live on is a gift for us."

Both Wendy and Jeannie said they're noticed similarities in the Pelican Rapids and Charles City areas — they're tight-knit communities that have been extremely supportive, given the circumstances surrounding Logan and Faith.

Courtesy Jeannie Westby 

Clockwise, from left: Jeannie, Pete, Haley and Faith Westby. Faith received Logan Luft's liver in July. 

Faith has spent much of her life at Mayo Clinic, as she suffers from Kabuki syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes several medical complications involving growth delays, intellectual disability and other symptoms. 

The commute from Pelican Rapids to Rochester is about a five-hour drive — but Jeannie said the care at Mayo has been excellent, and the "drive has gotten to be a bit shorter after all these years."

Initially, Logan's liver was intended for a 3-year-old boy or girl, Wendy said. But after more tests, doctors determined the organ would be more suitable for someone around Faith's age, 15.

Jeannie said Faith was put on a active donor list for a liver sometime in April, after doctors revealed she scored a 30 out of 40 on the Model for End-Stage Liver Disease scale. A score of 40 indicates the highest need for an organ.

Then, at 3:40 p.m. on July 7, the Westbys got the call that a liver was available. Faith was in surgery between 7 to 7:30 p.m. that night. 

When Wendy found out Faith was the liver recipient, she admitted that there was uncertainty — how would their personalities mesh? Would they be friendly?

Courtesy Jeannie Westby 

Faith Westby. 

Those doubts quickly disappeared, however, when the two families met at St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester on Dec. 30, 2017.

"Instantly, you could tell we would be friends and relatives forever," Wendy said. "We are really, really blessed; (Faith) is just a little dolly."

Jeannie said that the community support in Pelican Rapids — a town of just under 2,500 — for Faith has been overwhelming. 

"She is like a celebrity in town," she said. "She is just so loved ... her class has been so kind and caring. Everybody that has known her has been so nice ... she has people praying for her that haven't prayed in years."

She added that she expects much of the same when the Westbys visit Charles City later this month.

"I think she is from a very similar community we are from, there’s a unity that is so exciting to go and be a part of that," Jeannie said. "We have a huge family in Pelican Rapids, and I feel we’re going to have that in Charles City, too ... the more people in our lives, the better."

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Eagle Grove to KIOW: We don't accept 'we feel very sorry' apology for racist comments (with emails)



FOREST CITY | The leader of a North Iowa school district whose high school basketball players were targeted by radio employees’ racist comments rejected an initial apology from the station, emails show.

The Globe Gazette requested and received a number of emails, faxes and voicemails from Forest City Schools related to comments two longtime KIOW employees made about Eagle Grove High School’s basketball team in November.

Documents indicate school officials began working on the Globe Gazette's request the same day, providing all materials within five business days, much more quickly than state law requires.

Iowa's open records law requires public agencies to acknowledge a request within 10 to 20 business days, with materials generally being released several weeks after the acknowledgement. 

Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt, who taught at Forest City Schools for 43 years before her resignation in December, and Orin Harris on Nov. 28 could be heard mocking players’ Latino names on an online streaming service supplementing live coverage of the school’s sporting events.

Dan O’Hern, who is listed on Eagle Grove’s website as middle school activities director and grades 5-6 physical education teacher, alerted the district to the comments, according to an email he sent to Eagle Grove head basketball coach Beth Egemo Nov. 28.

Emails between school officials, KIOW on comments about Eagle Grove basketball players

O’Hern detailed the comments, saying “the Cube must of (sic) thought they were off the air last night.”

“It was extremely unprofessional!” he wrote. “When I called this (radio station) number, the gal (Kusserow-Smidt) had a hard time explaining herself.

“I asked for her boss. She chose not to answer and hung up!”

Kusserow-Smidt did not respond to two phone messages from the Globe Gazette requesting comment Friday morning and afternoon. 

The day after the incident, KIOW management sent an apology to Eagle Grove Superintendent Jess Toliver, and Eagle Grove head basketball coaches Ryan Pedersen and Egemo.

“The two individuals involved in the comments have been reprimanded by station management, and both feel very sorry for saying things that some might find degrading or insensitive,” the letter said, which was signed by station manager Karl Wooldridge and station owner Jim Coloff.

Google Maps 

Eagle Grove High School

The letter, dated Nov. 29, notes Kusserow-Smidt and Harris have “long broadcast careers and have not had any similar incidents in over 40 years.”

“We have also initiated follow-up training with all station staff,” the letter said.

Wooldridge in an email Nov. 29 to Toliver asked him to share the apology with Eagle Grove's basketball coaches and team members.

"We are sorry that this happened, and doesn't represent what KIOW radio is about," Wooldridge wrote. 

File photo 

Eagle Grove Superintendent Jess Toliver speaks to Hunter Martinez, 7, left, and Eddy Yackle, 6, in July 2016. 

“Short and sweet between you and me, this is not going to fly and I am going to tell him (Wooldridge) that,” Toliver wrote in an email to Forest City Superintendent Darwin Lehmann Nov. 29. “I do not need him to apologize to my team, I need the people who offended to (apologize).”

In an email between Toliver and Lehmann Nov. 30, Toliver said he did not accept KIOW’s apology.

“In the letter, both individuals involved were given a reprimand, but no one really took full responsibility,” Toliver wrote.

After receiving the letter from KIOW, Toliver said he contacted the manager and owner, to whom he “stress(ed) my frustration.”

CHRIS ZOELLER, The Globe Gazette 

Forest City Community Schools Superintendent Darwin Lehmann recommends to the School Board that they accept the resignation agreement from Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt during a special meeting Friday in Forest City.

Attached to the Nov. 30 email is a second apology letter from the radio station, which said: “Because the comments made have no place in our company, and our long commitment to high school athletics, the high school broadcast producer (Kusserow-Smidt) involved has been fired from her position. The play-by-play announcer (Harris) involved has been suspended, pending required diversity and sensitivity training.”

Harris was later fired from the station.

Google Maps 

Eagle Grove High School

In the email to Lehmann, Toliver said he was “fine with this resolution and have told the radio station that this is an acceptable outcome by the school district and I consider the matter closed.”

Toliver told the Globe Gazette Thursday the district "continues to have communication with them (KIOW) throughout the process."

In regards to legal action, Toliver said via email Thursday the district "did not reach a stage where we had to consider that as an option."

In the email to Lehmann Nov. 30, Toliver said he offered to help KIOW with "any training they may want to offer their employees as their areas become more diverse."

The radio station has not contacted him about his offer to help with diversity training, Toliver said Thursday. 

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Forest City teacher who made racist comments 'sets horrendous, dangerous example for students', emails say

FOREST CITY | Forest City Superintendent Darwin Lehmann received a number of emails from parents, former students, residents and others after KIOW employees made racist remarks about Eagle Grove High School's basketball team in November. 

The Globe Gazette requested and received the emails from the district. 

Among them:

Email - Adam Lackore

• Adam Lackore, who said Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt taught his daughter last year, and taught when he attended Forest City Schools. “I consider her one of ‘the best’ teachers in the FC school system. I understand the school system has been put in a tough situation and has to do what it has to do, but I believe if it comes to letting Holly Jane go, it would be a mistake and FC Elementary would lose a great educator.”

Email - Rich Pederson

• Rich Pederson, an instructor at Iowa Community College who said he teaches three of the four teens targeted in the comments: “I feel compelled to voice my displeasure to you as this really hit home about three really fine young men. All three of the boys do a great job in my class and will be extremely successful and productive members of society upon completing college. From my knowledge, all three come from very strong families that all are productive members of society.” Pederson said he hoped there would be “swift and firm action against these two individuals” who made the comments.

Email - Martha Reineke

• Martha Reineke, who said the “very idea that someone with such racist views is in daily contact with children chills me to the bone.” Reineke suggests: Kusserow-Smidt should be grateful immigrant families are coming to Iowa and “saving our economy now and for the future.” “She needs to meet some of the Dreamers and see the amazing things they are accomplishing with the opportunities provided for them by our public educational system,” Reineke wrote. “They are our future. We need to embrace them, not insult them with racist rants.” Reineke said she thought Kusserow-Smidt should be fired, but also suggested she could be rehabilitated. “Working the line at the meatpacking plant for a week would do her a world of good,” Reineke wrote. 

Email - Rhonda Newby

• Rhonda Newby, who said she had a child attending school in Forest City: “Her (Kusserow-Smidt’s) actions that night, in that clip, call for nothing less than her termination. If our children can be punished in school for their actions outside of school, then we cannot expect anything less for the staff. I do NOT care if she wasn't on school time or in a school function, it's unacceptable. If my child was in her class I would pull my child or demand a different teacher. So please, do the right thing and terminate her contract. It's the best thing for the school and for our children.”

Email - Patricia Rush

• Patricia Rush, who urged school officials to fire Kusserow-Smidt: “Her remarks reveal her true feelings regarding minorities, and it would be a slap in the face to your minority students to allow her to continue working in your school system,” Rush wrote. “Kusserow-Smidt sets a horrendous and dangerous example for students who should be learning the value of diversity. Please do the right thing and demonstrate to your community that there is no place for racism in your school district.”

Email - Sarah Lynch

• Sarah Lynch: “No one who claims to have the best interests of children at heart would let someone like Holly Jane Kusserow-Smidt continue to teach them and assert control over their lives,” Lynch wrote. “You and I both know how poisonous views like hers can be wielded quietly where no one can see. How many other children will you let her harm? Please fire her immediately.”

Email - maddyndd4life

• A person who does not identify themselves — but says they are a parent to a biracial third-grader — asks why it is OK for Kusserow-Smidt “to be a racist while not on school grounds.” “I understand its (sic) probably OK in your books because your low life president said it, but its (sic) NOT OK for the children and families that heard her say this.” The writer insinuated they would push for Lehmann’s termination, since “your board seems to think this situation is OK.”

Email - Ron Lichtsinn

• Ron Lichtsinn, who approved of how Lehmann was handling the situation: "Just wanted to send you a note to let you know I'm thinking about you during this mess... you should never be placed in a position to deal with it, but so far, very well done."