VIENNA, IL (KFVS) - Fifteen years ago, a stranger gave a Vienna, Illinois man a kidney. Now, he finally gets to meet the family of the person he calls his guardian angel.
Michael Dalton said he will never forget the night he got the call. He'd been waiting for a kidney that matched his blood type for months. Now, years later, he's still grateful for a little girl who he said saved his life.
"She [Sadie's mother] asked me if I wanted a picture of Sadie and I said 'Yes, I did' and she said 'Are you sure?' and I said 'Yes, I've had this child in my heart for the last 15 years. I want to see what she looks like,'" Dalton said.
Sadie was a sweet 11-year-old girl from Louisiana who gave Michael Dalton a gift he and his wife Tracy wish she didn't have to give.
"All of the sudden you realize, yeah, we are going to get a kidney but somebody had to die," Tracy Dalton said.
It's a gift for which they will forever be grateful.
"Our son was six years old at the time and missed a lot of Daddy time," Tracy Dalton said.
Dalton had a kidney disease. He said Sadie's kidney gave him his life back.
"[We] went through the transplant and found out at that time it was a perfect match. It couldn't have been a better match if it would have come from a twin," Michael Dalton said.
About a month and a half ago, Sadie's mother decided she would like to meet the man who shares a unique bond with her daughter.
"Out of all the organs that were donated from her daughter at that time, I'm the only one who's still alive," Dalton said.
So, they've packed up the truck, or sleigh, to make the trip from Missouri to Louisiana.
"I've had the Santa [license] plates for a while," Dalton said.
Sadie's spirit lives on through Dalton in more ways than one.
"Her favorite holiday was Christmas," Dalton said. "We just found this out and that's why her mother felt like I was honoring her memory."
Dalton has a white fluffy beard, glasses, rosy cheeks and often wears the color red. For him, whether it's Christmas time or Christmas in July, it's about keeping the spirit alive.
"I made a promise to God at that time that I would be there for his children and that's when I started looking like Santa," Dalton said.
Now, he's bringing smiles to kids everywhere, all for one precious 11-year-old girl.
"Her mother sent me a handkerchief that was made into an angel, this was six months after the transplant, and it still hangs above my chair. She's my guardian angel," Dalton said.
The Daltons leave for Louisiana on Wednesday. In 2006, they'd asked Sadie's family if they'd like to meet. At that time, her family wasn't quite ready.
Sadie would have been 26 years old in June.