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Kid Fights For Life, And Africans

Kendall Ciesemier is a 12 year-old who has created her own organization dedicated to helping others -- this, despite being born with a rare disease. And for her selfless spirit, she is The Early Show's "American Hero" Wednesday.

Kendall is also the daughter of co-anchor Hannah Storm's college roommate and dear friend.

"She's always had a strong purpose about her life," says Ellery Ciesemier.

Storm's college roomie is like most moms: She beams when speaking about Kendall.

Like most kids, Kendall keeps herself busy with school, friends and family.

But what takes up much of Kendall's time these days is the charity she started: Kids Caring 4 Kids.

Says Ellery Ciesemier, "Kendall went up to her room and came down with this white envelope all addressed and it's just stuffed -- all full of money, and she asked me for a stamp. And I go, 'What is all this money for?' And she says, 'It's my thing, I'm adopting an AIDS orphan.'"

Kendall knew she had to help the children of Sub-Saharan Africa once their plight was revealed during a segment on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"I was in awe," Kendall says. "I could not imagine how I would go through such a hard thing that they would have to go through."

But in her 12 years, Kendall has gone through a lot. Born with a rare liver disease known as biliary atresia, Kendall faced a life of surgery and uncertainty.

"I never ever really thought about me being sick," Kendall says. "I never wanted people to feel bad for me. If you asked me to say ten things about myself, I would never say that. Never even mention it because that didn't define who I was."

Instead, Kendall wants to be known for helping others. She began by sponsoring a little girl from Zambia with her savings of $360.

Kendall notes, "A uniform to go to school costs $10. Ten dollars. I mean, here, that's not a lot of money, but there, it's a huge amount. I mean, it could change a whole kid's life. And I'm like, 'Well, if ten dollars makes that much of a difference, then I can make a whole big difference in this country.'"

To make more of a difference, Kendall -- with the help of World Vision, expanded her sponsorship to include an entire village. It's something she decided to take on -- just before heading into her first liver transplant.

Ellery Ciesemier says, "Kendall came up with this idea of collecting donations in lieu of gifts, or flowers, or anything. I thought it was awesome."

Kendall's father, Mike Ciesemier agrees: "It's a great idea. Everyone wants to help when anyone is going through troubles or trials, and this is a very natural way of not only helping and showing an expression of care and love for us, but we get to then turn that over to helping with Kendall's vision to helping these children over in Africa."

Kendall's father donated part of his liver, but the transplant was unsuccessful. A second transplant, from an organ donor, came nearly two months later. This summer, Kendall was literally fighting for her life.

"When I was in the hospital this summer," Kendall says, "I couldn't do much. So a lot of the money I've raised has been by outright donations -- just people hearing about me doing this and wanting to help me."

From a lemonade stand in Oregon, to a home movie viewing at a friend's house, Kendall's charity was now raising thousands of dollars.

When Kendall recovered, she returned to school, and to her charity, with fresh ideas on how to raise more money.

Kendall explains, "I've set up donation boxes in my grade's classrooms, and I've made $40 for that so far, with people's change from lunch. And we started making these dog necklaces called "Bow Wow Bling Bling." And we made $1,000 from those. It's basically an elastic piece with ribbons coming out, and it's really cute."

She has such motivation.

Mike Ciesemier notes, "I think it's why she's here today. I think, without that sense of purpose -- she's been at the margin of whether she was going to live or die a few times -- and what pulled her through, one will never know. Clearly, there are great doctors and she chooses to believe that that's why she's here."

Storm asks, "Now, if somebody were to walk up to you and say, 'Kendall, I think you are a hero for everything you are doing, for having gone through everything that you've gone through, but yet just thinking about other people, other kids.' What would you say? Do you feel like a hero?"

"I really don't really feel like a hero," Kendall replies. "I've never, really. I mean, I just don't feel like a hero. I think you could say a hero is the firefighters from Sept. 11 because they saved so many people's lives, but I just don't see myself as a hero."

Well, Kendall certainly is a hero to the many children she's been able to help through her Kids Caring For Kids charity, which has raised just over $15,000. Kendall is expected to have a biopsy Thursday to check the condition of her recent liver transplant.

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