Carson man died on humanitarian mission

Kenny Prestella, in his typical storyteller way, joked with friends that his trip to Mexico to help build a church would include being pulled over by the Mexican police, an encounter with donkeys and a fall to his death while suffering an epileptic seizure

"It's like he knew," said fiancee Mary Wilhoite on Wednesday. "He kinda touched bases with everybody before he left. All his ducks were in a row."

Early Saturday morning, Wilhoite said, Prestella, 28, called laughing because he'd been pulled over by the federales and donkeys had crossed in front of his vehicle.

Later that same day, a phone call from a friend meant his final prediction came true.

Prestella, and friends Mari Courtney, Jason Langdon and Emory Paul, had only been at their destination for a few hours, when at about 10:30 a.m., Prestella stood on the second story where a roof was being raised on the Templo Cristiano Elim Church in La Mision. He suffered a seizure, falling some 15 feet to a concrete slab. When Paul got to him, Prestella was not breathing. Paul resuscitated him and the American Red Cross transported him 90 minutes back across the American border to the University of California, San Diego Medical Center.

Wilhoite and Prestella's mother, Kathy Shabi, jumped into a car together and arrived Saturday night at 8:30. In quick order, more than a dozen of Prestella's Carson City friends showed up at the hospital too.

The prognosis was as bad as it could be. The pressure on Prestella's brain was untreatable. He was brain dead.

With a circle of friends standing around her boy, Shabi took a picture of her son's shamrock tattoo with her cell phone. The group vowed to each get one in his honor. Then Wilhoite and Shabi did the only thing they could. They honored Prestella's wishes to donate his organs.

"A gentleman got his heart on Monday morning, his kidney went to a young kid. Somebody back East got his pancreas and somebody got his liver," said Wilhoite in a moment of composure, among suffocating moments of anguish.

A 1996 Carson High School graduate, Prestella, who learned he was epileptic during a junior high dance, had dreamed of becoming a firefighter. In 2001, he received his EMT certification and took a job as a volunteer firefighter with Lyon County. In August, Prestella's dreams were shattered when he suffered a seizure during a Dayton fire, and had to resign himself to the fact that fatigue and heat brought on the gran mals.

Though firefighting wouldn't be his vocation, Prestella didn't let it get him down, Wilhoite said.

His large group of friends is testament to his character, Shabi said.

"I'm so proud of him. He's just so impressive. So many people have come forward and just said how much he meant to them," she said, clutching two photographs of Prestella wearing a mischievous smile. "For 28 years he's lived three times the life most people ever do. He helped a lot of people and did a lot great things. You couldn't miss him in a room. If you met him, you loved him."

Life was funny fodder for Prestella's stories, Wilhoite said. Every day he'd share a tale about his experiences. As a matter of fact, she said, he'd probably laugh about this.

"I cannot believe we have to tell people you died, Kenny, by doing humanitarian work," she said, chuckling as she thought of him seeing the irony. "Kenny was just the love of my life. I lived more of a life and was more loved and happier in the past five years than before him."

As Shabi stared at the pictures of her son, the grief enveloped her.

"He was such a bright man. He just was so awesome," she said, breaking down in tears. "I can't believe that God would take somebody so special and so wonderful from this earth. He's been smiling and making me laugh from day one."

• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at or 881-1213.


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