American Ninja Warrior contestant Kenneth Niemitalo had the scare of his life a few days after the birth of his daughter, Hazel, in April 2015. The infant was diagnosed with congenital nephrotic syndrome and required a kidney donation. As co-host Matt Iseman told EW ahead of Sunday’s Emmys ceremony, American Ninja Warrior ended up changing the fate of Hazel and her family.
“Last season, [Kenneth’s] on the course. He’s competing and his mind’s not there because he just had a daughter, she’s in the neonatal intensive care unit with kidney failure and she has no hope other than a kidney donation,” Iseman explained.
According to a Facebook post from Niemitalo last year, the family had to wait until Hazel met certain criteria for the transplant list. The woman that ended up donating her kidney to Hazel heard the family’s story when Niemitalo competed on American Ninja Warrior last year. She was spotted standing beside Hazel in the show’s stadium recently as Niemitalo worked his way through the course.
“For this show that started off just as kind of this ridiculous, competitive show, now to see the impact that these stories are having, it’s pretty gratifying,” Iseman said.
“It’s truly one of the very few shows left where you can sit with your entire family and watch,” co-host Kristine Leahy said of American Ninja Warrior. “And it’s good uplifting messages, not only to get up and go work out — sometimes even together — but that if you’re going through something, you see all these people who’ve been through either the same thing or something harder and to see them persevere and have such a great time on the show, what family doesn’t want to watch that?”
American Ninja Warrior is in the running for Outstanding Reality Competition Program at the Emmys, which airs this Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.
Watch the interview in the clip above.