Repaying the gift of life: Justine Komin helping a friend she never met
A bucket list is defined as a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.
At 27 years old, Mason Mudlin had quite the list of his own, but due to a rare combination of auto-immune disorders, passed away in 2010 before checking off all of his items.
In Mason's passing came new life, for a young Wichitan who spent every day of her life fighting a disease of her own. Justine Komin suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, a disease that destroys far too many bucket lists. Justine received a lung transplant from Mason, and now can finally live with some of the small freedom's we take for granted.
"Every day was work just to get through," she said. "To wake up and feel like that's the best you'll be all day just goes downhill from there. Just to breathe and get dressed. Things most people don't even realize take much effort."
Now back to that bucket list. With Justine's new lease on life, it was time to help repay the man who gave her the ultimate gift. A time to finish his bucket list. Which brings us to Saturday night at 81 Speedway, as Justine had one item in particular to check off the list. She was going to drive a race car.
"People let me borrow their expensive equipment on good faith that I'll take care of it," she said. "It's the same with Mason. I've been given a gift that I will cherish and protect as long as I can."
"Everybody on the race team just thought it was an amazing deal. Such an opportunity to be a part of it," said J.D. Johnson, the driver of Justine's borrowed car. "Just to help make some dreams come true, it was a no-brainer for us."
But here's the best part. Mason's family made the trip from South Dakota to help Justine make Mason's dream come true. It is the first time the family and Justine have met.
"It's so great. I've waited a really long time to hug them. To tell them how thankful I am that they let Mason live on in other people," Justine said through teary eyes.
"How can I put into words what it's like to meet someone who has a piece of my brother? I don't know, I can't answer that," said Melanie Barclay, who spoke on behalf of Mason's family. "It's like having a moment with Mason that we didn't get to have."
The race was on. Justine took a few laps during a race, then on the home straightaway something happened.
"One point going down the back stretch. He was with me."
There are no words to describe the emotion on that track Saturday night. Justine is about the same age Mason was when he left this world, and considering everything she has been through in her life she brings an unbelievable perspective to getting the chance to live.
"Things I gripe about today, I have to realize are a privilege to get to have those problems today" Justine said.
And while it isn't the gift of life, Justine's gift to Mason's family is an invaluable one to honor his.
"It's amazing that God Justine to receive Mason's lungs," Barclay explained after the race. "For Justine to fulfill that wish of his means more than we can really explain."