A Hays woman is preparing for a trip to Las Vegas, where she will represent the state of Kansas in competing for the title of Mrs. America.

Cassie Hickel was crowned Mrs. Kansas America last month in a pageant in the small town of Chillicothe, Mo. She will take her platform of organ donation to the national stage for the Aug. 26 pageant in the Nevada city.

Hickel, who never had competed in pageants previously, said it was her desire to advocate for organ donation — specifically living kidney donation — that led her to pursue the crown.

“In a way, I was really surprised that I won,” she said. “But at the same time, I knew going into it that any title I would receive or any recognition I would receive in response to my kidney donation would be completely God-related.”

The Hays mother of three donated a kidney in December after testing as a match for an Iowa man suffering from a hereditary kidney disease. She met her kidney recipient — Rich Klim — one day prior to surgery, but had become aware of his need through a posting on social media, she told The Hays Daily News in December.

Hickel said she believed God was leading her throughout the process and is thankful for the doors that already have opened for her to share her message as Mrs. Kansas America. She already has been in contact with the National Kidney Foundation and other non-profits regarding her passion for live-organ donation.

Individuals who have either donated or received a kidney transplant also have contacted her and said her message is “bringing them hope,” she said.

“I have come to realize that kidney health is extremely important,” she said. “I hadn’t given it a second thought. Most people who have kidney disease will not find out until they are at stage three or four, because they neglected their yearly lab work and check-ups.”

Many people might not even know it is possible to donate some organs, such as a kidney, and continue living a normal, healthy life, she said. She hopes her message might encourage others to give the gift of life.

“Now being eight months post-surgery, my life is not very different as far as physically and health-wise,” Hickel said. “Once I got out of the six weeks of recovery, nothing’s really changed for me. I think that people sometimes think something drastically changes after donating.”

She also has kept in contact with Klim’s family. He, along with his wife and child, attended the Missouri pageant to cheer her on.

“They were there when I got crowned and everything,” Hickel said. “It’s just been really neat to see how that friendship and relationship has grown. They’ve kind of adopted me into their family.”

There were a total of five women competing for the Mrs. Kansas title, and Hickel now is continuing her training to prepare for August’s much larger competition. There will be a candidate representing each state, as well as Washington, D.C.

Hickel will have a raffle fundraiser to help support her travels. Local businesses have donated items for gift baskets, and raffle tickets are available for a chance to win. Check Hickel’s Facebook page, Mrs. Kansas America, for details.

She admitted she is a bit nervous about the larger pageant, but is looking forward to the experience. The contest will include an interview, evening gown and swimsuit competitions, and a state costume representing her home state.

“We’re all married women, and all very passionate about our causes,” she said of the Mrs. America pageant. “You really are just there because you want your voice heard. You’re not really there just because you want a crown. You want to raise awareness about something.”