Lisa-Ann Burnett, PTA president and cafeteria worker at Lehua Elementary School in Pearl City, Hawaii, is a giver. Whether it’s assisting 1st graders with reading assignments and math problems, organizing events like field day and culture day, or planning a clothing drive for a local nursing home, Burnett’s smiling face and helping hands are invariably involved. And to students who “need the reassurance,” Burnett offers plenty of hugs and encouraging words.

But last October, it was Burnett who was on the receiving end of some incredible generosity. After battling lupus for 18 years, she underwent a kidney transplant facilitated through a paired-donor exchange. For the medical procedure, Burnett’s husband, Amos, donated a kidney to another woman from Hawaii; the woman’s fiancé, in turn, donated his kidney to Lisa-Ann.

Burnett recognizes that she’s fortunate to have found a donor in a relatively short time. “Most people die waiting for a kidney. Mine didn’t even take a year,” she says. She’s also grateful for the outpouring of support throughout her illness from students and families at Lehua, including a blood drive for the four adults undergoing the surgery. And when news reached students that Mrs. Burnett had finally received her new kidney, “They kept asking me, ‘When am I coming back?’ ” she recalls.

By January, Burnett couldn’t wait to get back to work and volunteering at Lehua. “My doctor said, ‘No way!’ ” she reports. But just a few weeks later, “We had a sock hop....I helped plan that.” Later, in April, Burnett oversaw the logistics of the cotton candy and frozen slush machines and sorting out the details and locations for the vendors and amusement ride operators at the school’s spring carnival. Burnett says her coleaders “went above and beyond” to help when she was too ill or tired to fulfill some of her officer duties.

Burnett still struggles with daily fatigue and pain from the transplant and a weight gain of 50 pounds attributed to her required daily medications. “I’m just trying to get back to being me,” says Burnett, who’s been known to don fake eyelashes, a bright-pink wig, and a matching boa to advertise Lehua family dances.

Although Burnett is now finishing her term as PTA president, she won’t be slowing down; her 10-year-old daughter, Amir, will be entering middle school while son Amos, 7, stays at Lehua. “I will have to split my time with two schools,” she says. No doubt Burnett’s upbeat attitude will shine at both. “I have a choice,” she says. “I can be happy....I prefer to smile.”