Each year during our fundraising campaign on behalf of Children's Hospital, we meet children whose lives have been saved by innovative surgical techniques. My assistant, Samantha Ganey, profiles a Maryland child who underwent life-saving kidney surgery less than two months ago. Samantha's report:
No chocolate for two years is tough if you have a sweet tooth. But for 12-year-old Lauren Jenkins, it was a must. Cutting out her favorites -- Raisinets and chocolate-covered cherries -- was part of a restricted diet that helped save her life.
For two years, until she had transplant surgery in October, Lauren's kidneys were failing. Her lungs were following suit.
Lauren had a rare condition known as pulmonary-renal syndrome, a dual failure of the lungs and kidneys. "It totally floored us," said Lauren's mother, Jennifer.
Luckily, Lauren's lungs got better, although the reason is unclear. She had been able to breathe on her own months before there was an answer for her defeated kidneys.
Intermittently throughout the two years, Lauren was able to use peritoneal dialysis, which cleansed her body through a tube in her abdomen while she slept at home. At other times, Lauren was hooked up to hemodialysis machines (requiring a visit to Children's).
At Children's, Lauren was one of six children who were regularly attached by the arm to individual dialysis machines. Lauren admitted she was bored during those stationary three-hour periods. So the children swapped kidney-disease stories to pass the time.
Lauren said she could always top the other kids. They knew what was causing their kidney failures. "I would always say, 'Undiagnosed,' " she recalled. It made her feel special.
Her transplant surgeon at Children's, Dr. James Gilbert, said he still doesn't know the cause of Lauren's kidney and lung failure. After fruitless attempts to save Lauren's kidneys, doctors decided that transplant surgery was the only solution.
Last March, both kidneys were removed by surgeons at Children's Hospital. For nearly seven months, Lauren survived on dialysis machines, which filter toxins from the blood and create urine the way functioning kidneys do. Lauren underwent transplant surgery Oct. 28.
Lauren's 39-year-old aunt, Shirley Crandall, a nurse in North Carolina, volunteered a kidney the moment she discovered that her blood type matched Lauren's.
Down to one kidney apiece, Lauren and her aunt expect to lead healthy lives.
The transplant surgery took nine hours, four more than average.
Aunt Shirley's kidney was removed at Washington Hospital Center, across a parking lot from Children's, two hours before Lauren was ready to receive it.
In the meantime, Dr. Gilbert prepared Lauren. "It's like the flowerbed is made and everything is prepared," Dr. Gilbert said. "They bring it over. We open it up. Examine it. Plug it in."
Dr. Gilbert successfully placed Aunt Shirley's kidney into Lauren. But Lauren's body initially rejected her new kidney.
Dr. Gilbert redid the vascular connection. In his last-ditch effort, Dr. Gilbert used one of Aunt Shirley's ovarian veins that was connected to her kidney. Aunt Shirley had two vessels as opposed to only having one, Dr. Gilbert explained.
"I wasn't sure, because it took an extra two hours to do that. But right from the beginning, the kidney started to work," said Dr. Gilbert, who performs 10 to 12 transplants at Children's each year.
Now that she lives a less-monitored life, Lauren, her parents and her younger brothers, Tyler and Jeffrey, are excited about her return to school. In February or March, Lauren will attend St. Peter's, a Catholic school in her home town of Waldorf.
But when she was asked which grade she will enter, Lauren paused and looked with a wrinkled brow at her father, Ronnie, who works at Clinton Fence Co. She couldn't recall. For two years, she had been home-schooled twice a week for an hour at a time. She was too ill to attend a conventional school.
Jennifer said the dark circles under Lauren's eyes are starting to lighten. And her energy level has increased enough for snack parties in the kitchen at 2 a.m. Her mom said she often joins Lauren for a block of cheese in the middle of the night.
Lauren is still thin, despite her snacks. But eating more is just what Dr. Gilbert asked her to do. "Patients have to eat themselves out of the hospital," he said.
But food was only part of it. Lauren has plenty of room for gratitude -- for the kidney her aunt provided, and for the hospital that gave her a second chance.
Our goal by Jan. 24: $1,000,000.
In hand as of Dec. 14: $183,546.46.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to
Children's Hospital and mail it to
Bob Levey's Campaign for Children's,
P.O. Box 75528, Baltimore, Md. 21275-5528.
BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a
touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S,
or 5437, and follow instructions.
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