Name: Kelli Webber
Day Job: Organ procurement coordinator
An Unusual Calling: The hospital machines and monitors beep and whirr, but the outlook isn’t good. A miracle recovery doesn’t appear to be in the cards for this patient. That’s when Webber’s job begins.
“I work with patients in the hospital who are end of life and their families to facilitate organ donation and to evaluate patients to see if they could be candidates,” Webber said. “[It’s tough] but very rewarding to be able to bring a little bit of hope to recipients who are out there and families as well. They’re often really comforted by the fact that even though their loved one passed away, they may be able to help others in a really unfortunate circumstance.”
Normally, Webber travels to many hospitals for her job, but she said organ donations have slowed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Death Gets Personal: Webber, of Graham, Washington, deals with difficult and sad situations every day in her occupation, but that didn’t make it easier to face loss in her personal life.
She met her husband, John Webber, on a dating app in 2015. He’d already been diagnosed with metastatic melanoma.
“It came back while we were dating, so pretty much the entire three to four years we were together he was battling it in some form or fashion,” said Kelli. “He went through immunotherapies, chemotherapies, radiation, had major abdominal surgery, clinical trials—everything pretty much.”
John died in June 2018 at age 37.
“The Barn Was My Therapy”: Kelli had grown up doing 4-H and Pony Club in Eatonville, Washington, but she got out of riding when she went to college and started her career. About a month before John died, she was looking for an outlet and started taking lessons at Signature West Farms, working with trainers Tracy Bryant and Shannon Hendrickson.
“I showed [John] pictures and told him all about my experiences and how much I loved horses and wanted to get back into riding, and he was always encouraging me,” Kelli said. “He was like, ‘You need to get out and start taking lessons again.’ ”
About two months after John’s death, Kelli decided to go back to the barn. “I was a disaster physically and emotionally, but being at the barn was my therapy,” she said. “It was somewhere I could go for two or three hours and not think or remember my reality of being a widow and losing the love of my life. Being at the barn and having that relationship with my trainer and the horses is really what saved me. I credit it totally to why I’m still here now.”
By August 2018, Kelli was riding regularly. Her trainers offered her a Holsteiner mare, Newtorius, who’d been with them since she was 6 months old. She’d had a foal and hadn’t been in work for about five years. The pair bonded, and Kelli’s trainers gave her “Newt” forever.
“I was so depressed I didn’t want to do anything,” Kelli said. “I credit my trainer Tracy for just checking in and reaching out and being nice, asking how things were going. I was like, ‘You know what? I need to get back to the barn.’ ”
At that point, Kelli hadn’t been at the barn long, but she began making friends who helped her through her grief.
The Fire-Breathing Dragon: Newt turned out to be just what Kelli needed.
“She is very hot, very opinionated, just a total mare,” she said, adding that her nickname is the “fire-breathing dragon.”
“She’s been teaching me about perseverance and maintaining that perseverance, but also being soft and willing to accept my emotions and cry when I need to and be vulnerable and sad,” Kelli continued.
She remembers one particularly tough lesson before Newt was hers that made her realize the mare (Capone I—O Joy Commanders PT, Lavita) was her “heart horse.”
“We had a particularly hard lesson—she was just kind of crazy, and emotionally and mentally I was just drained and not riding my best and made some mistakes,” Kelli recalled. “So I went into her stall and just apologized, and she put her head onto my chest and let me hug her and sob into her mane for 15 minutes. Letting me be vulnerable—I’ve always had a hard time being vulnerable and being open. She’s taught me that you can persevere and be strong, but it’s also OK to open up and be sad sometimes.
“Year 2 is really strange,” she continued. “Still a lot of depression and waves of grief. The barn is still my happy place. I know if I’m having a really hard day, even if I can’t ride, I’ll go snuggle Newt and give her treats. It’s keeping on keeping on, you know?”
Kelli has worked her way up to the 1.0-meter jumpers with Newt, but she isn’t sure when she’ll compete again since shows are still shut down in Washington due to the pandemic.
“I’m so fortunate to be given the opportunity,” she said. “Just to be trusted with this mare that was so special to [Tracy], I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay that.”
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