Sunday, September 7, 1997
Bonfield girls take
a last walk together

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kris Wesseling's sisters told me a west side story. Oh, they didn't say so in as many words, but it had all the elements. Church. Family. A hint of ward politics. Honest sentiment. Even a bar famous for Irish wakes.

Kris was still in grade school when she learned she had diabetes, which would destroy her kidneys and shape her sisters' lives for the next 40 years. During that time she went to college, got married and had a son. The last 20 years were a gift from modern medicine - and a sister.

The lucky one

Kristeen Bonfield Wesseling, who died Aug. 26, was Hamilton County's 150th kidney transplant patient. All three sisters lined up for antigen tests, hoping to be the one with the kidney least likely to be rejected. Karen Bonfield and Kimberly Bonfield Kemp matched. Kathy Bonfield Ruch didn't. After more elaborate profiling - weight, age, health, circumstance - Karen was chosen.

Lucky Karen.

Right after the operation, Kris was sitting up in bed, feeling better than she had in years. Karen was on morphine. Kris had a relatively modest scar. The donor incision is huge, front to back in a half moon. A rib is removed.

''Well, I did feel lucky,'' Karen says. ''We didn't know how much time this would give her, but I would have done it for any amount of time.''

The Bonfield girls - these women - are the instantly likeable daughters of Maureen Bonfield, called ''Mother'' by hundreds of people who didn't actually grow up in her Covedale house. Some were patrons of the Crow's Nest in Price Hill.

After husband Charles - ''Kiestie'' - died in 1958 and Maureen sold the bar in 1972, she worked as a clerk-typist at Hamilton County Municipal Court, later as a bailiff and almost from the first day was ''Mother'' to judges and clerks and lawyers and reporters.

Family values

When the chips are down, you usually get the support group you've earned. And Maureen Clark Bonfield and her family are entitled to every prayer said, every candle lit, every flower sent, every note written. They did it first and often. You might say it was genetic.

So, one sister gave Kris a kidney. Another one painted her fingernails. They called every day from Las Vegas when they took a vacation without her. Debbie Reynolds watched their luggage once while they made the call.

They cooked and cleaned for Kris. They made her laugh. And they would gladly have done so for many more years. Gladly.

Her husband of 25 years, James Wesseling, quietly struggled to keep her at their Bridgetown home, when it would have been easier to check Kris into an institution. He was home when he could be and wore a beeper when he couldn't. She was sick for a long time.

According to his aunts, the Wesselings' son, Ryan, a senior at Ohio State, is ''just a great kid.''

This is, I believe, the ''family values'' we hear about more often than we see.

When her sisters were asked to choose pall bearers to carry Kris' casket to the cemetery, they looked at each other and each knew what the others were thinking. Kathy Ruch said it.

''We carted her around in her wheelchair for nine years, we will carry her this last time.''

And they did.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.