By Austin Bybee
Krystaly Koch is no stranger to adversity.
Koch’s mother died when Koch was only 5 years old. Her mother had just completed her first year of law school before passing away. After deciding to attend law school herself, Koch was accepted to the S.J. Quinney College of Law and became part of the class of 2017. And while she was excited to follow in her mother’s footsteps, law school quickly became the most difficult time of Koch’s life. From the busy course load to balancing life with four young children, her plate was constantly full and oftentimes felt overwhelming.
Luckily for Koch, the class of 2017 was a class of support, camaraderie, and solidarity. By the end of their first year the class of 2017 would say they were not just a class, they were a law school family. Koch was lucky enough to be the honorary “law school mom, and one of her classmates even made her a t-shirt stating such.
“Our class’s philosophy was always that we were going to help each other out,” said Koch.
The difficulties of Koch’s law school career culminated during her second year, when her spouse had to undergo two separate brain surgeries to treat a brain tumor, the first during fall finals and the second during spring finals. Not knowing what she would do, Koch’s classmates quickly came to her rescue.
The class began by raising a sufficient amount of money to cover the cost of Koch’s spouse’s first surgery. Koch had no idea this was happening until after the amount had been raised. During both surgeries, classmates took turns watching Koch’s kids so that she could be with her spouse in the hospital and so that she could study and take her final exams. As the holiday season began, the class even put together Christmas for Koch’s family, which her kids still describe as their favorite Christmas yet.
And the service didn’t stop there.
Koch recalls one late-night family emergency shortly after the second brain surgery when, in desperate need of help, she called a classmate at 2 a.m. Her classmate answered the phone immediately saying “I’m on my way, what happened?” Koch’s children still refer to this same classmate as one of their favorite “law school aunties.”
Koch describes her class as the most amazing group of people she has ever met. She believes the camaraderie of her class helped shape her to become the person she is today.
Koch is now an attorney at the law firm of Freeman Lovell in Utah. Her practice focuses primarily on real estate law and civil litigation, but she also dedicates a significant amount of her time and talents to those in need. For example, Koch is currently helping to organize a nonprofit dedicated to fighting insurance companies that refuse to pay for mental health claims.
This particular project is important to Koch because she is dedicated to removing the stigma around mental health and helping those impacted by it.
“Mental health is a big thing for my family,” she said. Koch’s children have various mental health issues including depression, anxiety, and autism.
Koch herself has attention deficit disorder, which was diagnosed right before she started law school. She actively shares with others how ADD impacted her law school experience. She once told an incoming class at the College of Law during orientation that the reason she survived law school was because of her classmates and Adderall, a remark that drew laughter from the audience. But Koch wasn’t joking. Koch actively seeks to discuss her own experience with mental health and encourages others to do so as well.
Beyond her legal work, Koch has kept busy sewing hundreds of masks for those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her experience with sewing began in the early part of 2020 as Australia was being devastated by historic wildfires. Wanting to help somehow, Koch and her twins learned to sew in an attempt to make joey pouches for the impacted kangaroos. The project proved difficult, however, as Koch explained that she was only able to sew a straight line and the pouches required more work than that. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and masks became a high priority, Koch decided to use the extra materials from the joey pouches to make masks instead.
“Masks were easy,” Koch said, “because making masks only requires sewing a straight line”.
The mask-making project quickly became a whole family effort. Koch, who was using her mother’s old sewing machine, purchased another sewing machine online. Her daughter would often sit on the floor of their living room while placing the old sewing machine on a piano bench to make more masks. When elastic became almost impossible to find, Koch’s spouse decided to cut up their t-shirts to make ear loops and ties for the masks. As Koch’s whole family got involved, the project expanded throughout their home.
“My bedroom began to look like a sweatshop,” Koch recalled.
The scope of the project also quickly grew as word spread of the family’s efforts. In what began as a small project for family and friends, the family began masking masks for strangers throughout the country. Mask requests began pouring in from states like New York, Texas, Washington, California, and Connecticut. Altogether, the family has sewn hundreds of masks for frontline workers including doctors, nurses, and entire ICU units, as well as family, friends, and strangers. Koch’s family even sewed masks for an entire company of U.S. Army soldiers.
“The project was really something small but I realized it could make a huge difference,” Koch said.
Koch and her family continue to sew masks for those in need. Koch said her desire to sew masks for others directly relates to the service she received from her classmates during law school.
“The question for me isn’t why would I help but rather why wouldn’t I help? For me to not help or to not pay it forward would be doing a disservice to my class that had helped me so much,” she said.