No reservations for kidney donor
It started with a plea for help on Facebook. Emily Jones’ 4-year-old son, Henry, needed a kidney donor.
Much to her surprise, Jones received a Facebook message back from her childhood best friend, Colleen Carnes. She was a match.
Growing up in Huntington, Jones and Carnes shared their childhood, from kindergarten to high school graduation.
They drifted apart after high school, with Jones attending Trine University, and Carnes moving on to the University of Louisville.
One day, during the winter of 2017, Jones was doing laundry in the basement of her Fort Wayne home when she received a Facebook message from Carnes.
Jones said there was no, “Hi, how are you?” or “Happy Holidays” in the message. It simply said, “Hey, I talked to your donor lady. I’m an initial match, and she’s going to send me the paperwork to start medical testing.”
In disbelief, Jones fell to her knees, crying.
“This person that I’ve known my whole life is now going to be responsible for allowing my son to have a better life,” Jones said. “There really aren’t words.”
During a telephone interview Friday, Carnes said she was happy to help her old friend. To find out if she was eligible to be a donor, she had to take several tests, including a blood test, a urine test, and had an MRI and X-rays of her chest and abdomen.
The surgery to remove a kidney is high-risk, but Carnes said she wasn’t nervous. She spent the last six months researching the procedures.
“I’ve seen all the pros and cons, but I didn’t have any really big reservations about it,” said Carnes, who underwent the surgery Wednesday and was expected to be released from the hospital Friday.
IU Health transplant surgeon Dr. William Goggins, who has more than 2,000 kidney transplants under his belt, performed Henry’s transplant late Wednesday morning.
For Goggins, the kidney donation from Carnes to Henry wasn’t the first time he’d been the surgeon when a transplant patient received an organ from an old friend after communicating through social media.
“I think it’s a great tool to be able to help people to find a donor,” Goggins said. “I think when you raise social awareness for these types of things, I think its spectacular.”
Goggins met with Jones a year-and-a-half ago to decide which procedure would give Henry the best outcome. By March 2017, Henry was on the transplant list.
Henry was born with a condition called posterior urethral valve, a bladder obstruction caused by extra tissue that has grown inside the urethra, which causes the damage to kidneys.
Since birth, Henry has been on dialysis, making the trip to Riley Children’s Hospital four to six times a week, a long haul for Jones and Henry’s father, Kevin Whitacre.
“He doesn’t get to go to preschool, he doesn’t get to do things like Vacation Bible School, he doesn’t really get to do a lot of anything,” Jones said before the surgery.
On Wednesday, the day he turned 4 years old, Henry was wheeled into the operating room for his transplant surgery about the same time Carnes was being prepped for hers.
Goggins said he knew Henry’s surgery would be challenging due to Henry’s small size and the amount of abdominal surgeries he had previously undergone.
“Going into it, I know that it’s going to be a challenging surgery, so you just have to take your time with it and just know that it’s going to be difficult,” Goggins said.
Because of another emergency surgery, Carnes’ and Henry’s surgeries were pushed back, but procedures began about 11 a.m. and ended about 5 p.m.
During a transplant surgery, Goggins said the donor typically goes first, and while their surgeon is getting the kidney ready, Goggins is preparing his patient by opening them up and making room for the kidney.
Once the kidney is flushed and ready at the IU Health facility, it is brought to Riley by one of Goggins’ perfusionists, and then is placed in the patient.
Goggins said both surgeries went smoothly. Henry’s kidney had immediate function, producing urine upon being put into place.
Henry, still in the pediatric intensive care unit, is doing exceptionally well, Goggins said. The family hoped to be moved out of ICU on Friday, depending on bed availability in the hospital.
“I’m still feeling a little shell-shocked by everything, I think,” Jones said. “He’s been doing so well in recovery that it’s taking us as parents by surprise.”
Goggins said the transplant will allow Henry to have normal physiology and a normal life.
Between the ages of 16 and 25, Henry will need another kidney transplant, Goggins said, to give him a more permanent fix for his bladder issues.
“Luckily, I don’t think Henry will ever remember his travels with his kidney disease and dialysis when he gets a little older, and I think he’s just going to grow up as a normal kid,” Goggins said.
Expected to leave the hospital Friday, Carnes says she plans to stay in touch with her old friend. All she is wishing for Henry is a good quality of life.
“You know, being able to be active and not be tethered to a hospital bed for a childhood,” Carnes said.
A discharge date has not been set for Henry, but his family remains hopeful.
“I can’t wait to see how much better things get as he continues to heal,” Jones said. “We are so excited for him to explore this brand new life he has.”