A father’s gift of life
When a toddler needed a transplant, his father stepped up.
CALVIN Hummel, whose kidneys failed two years ago because of a rare genetic mutation, has spent more time in the hospital than most adults. But the three-year-old is healthy, active and gaining weight like a champ, thanks in no small part to a kidney donation from his dad.
“It’s a weird feeling but a good one,” to think of your left kidney working in your child’s body, said Garrett Hummel, 32.
“I remember when one of our friends who donated a kidney said, ‘I’ve always wanted to save a life’ – that was one of her bucket list goals. And to be honest, that never occurred to me; to me, it was kind of the required thing – it was just something that you’re doing for your kid.”
It’s rare for a child as young as Calvin to need a kidney. Last year, Calvin was one of only 36 American children under age five to receive a kidney donated by a parent, according to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Among the possible explanations for the decrease: Parents are having children later, and health problems such as high blood pressure are starting earlier. Those factors may be making it more difficult for parents to get cleared as transplant donors, according to Dr Amy Bobrowski, medical director of the Kidney Transplant Programme at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, the United States.
Calvin was a seemingly healthy baby, and his parents were expecting a routine local emergency room visit when, at 10 months old, he caught a virus and stopped eating and producing wet diapers.
Instead, doctors said he was having kidney problems, and an ambulance transported the Hummels directly to Lurie Children’s Hospital, where Calvin would spend the next week.
“It was a shock; it really was,” said Calvin’s mum, Heidi.
Calvin had infantile nephrotic syndrome as a result of a new mutation on his WT1 gene, a mutation that was not carried by either parent. He would need a kidney transplant, his parents were told, although not immediately. At that point, his kidneys were still functioning at 60% or 70%.
Within about two months, his kidneys failed completely, and he embarked on an 11-week hospital stay.
“It was horrendous. Lots of complications. Multiple surgeries. And he needed immediate kidney dialysis,” Heidi said.
Before dialysis – when he was retaining fluid due to kidney failure – Calvin’s eyes puffed up almost to the point that they couldn’t open. His lips looked as if they’d been stung by bees.
“He hardly had ankles,” said Heidi. “Like, I don’t know how his skin stretched as far as it did. His feet were so puffy. He looked like the Michelin Man.”
Over the course of a year, Calvin went through more than 500 hours of dialysis.
Both his parents were willing to be kidney donors: “When it’s your kid, you’ll do anything for them,” Heidi said.
But the Hummels decided Garrett was the logical first choice to be tested for compatibility. They wanted another baby soon, and they didn’t want to have to wait for transplant surgery and recovery for Heidi, which could easily have taken a year.
Hummel and Calvin were a good match, and surgery went smoothly.
Hummel got through the painful cramps of early recovery, and his one remaining kidney adjusted to doing the work of two. Within a year, he said, he felt pretty much as good as new.
Today, Calvin, who grew 15cm in the year after his transplant, is making up for lost time.
“He’s doing great. He’s really thriving,” said Dr Bobrowski, who is his kidney doctor. “The kidney itself is working great. He’s doing really well – you really can’t ask for more. They’re obviously a very good family and take awesome care of him, so that helps.”
Transplanted kidneys last 10 to 12 years on average, she said, but in the case of young recipients and living donors, they can last significantly longer. If Calvin’s kidney fails, he could get another transplant.
Calvin, who has to take medication and still gets his nutrition through a feeding tube, has to be careful about contact sports, but he can run and jump and play, go to school, and make age-appropriate mischief.
That’s what he and his little brother Henry, 14 months, were up to during a recent visit to the Hummels’ home. Calvin, who has a tendency to wrinkle his brow and raise his left eyebrow when he’s thinking hard, showed off his impressive spelling skills and his excellent manners: “Bye-bye! Thank you for visiting me.”
Reflecting on everything Calvin has been through, the Hummels rarely got emotional. At the time, they had to push aside their fear and anguish, and just do the best they could for their son, they said.
But Hummel does get a little misty-eyed when he talks about all the people who pitched in when friends and family held a fundraiser with the help of the Children’s Organ Transplant Association.
“It’s amazing to see,” said Hummel, an administrator for the village of Willowbrook. “You don’t realise how wide the net is that you cast. I’m not Mr Outgoing by any stretch but we had an event for Calvin, and it had more people than our wedding. You get married, and you think, every one of your friends will be there. But we had a fundraiser for our kid, and every one of our friends and their friends were there.” – Chicago Tribune/ Tribune News Service
Hummel and Calvin looking at their surgery scars. Calvin developed kidney failure as a baby and, after discovering he was a match for Calvin, Hummel gave his left kidney to his son. — TNS