Happy Birthday! Here’s a Kidney to Save Your Life

“I want that one – no, not that one – THAT one!”

“Mommy where is my helicopter?”

“You said you would get it! Not fair!”

For any parent, these typical whines and shouts will be all-too familiar. The wonderful lack of maturity shown by a child when it comes to birthday gifts can be impressive in its petulance. However, for any parent who has seen their child act in such a poor manner to their birthday gifts, it might be time to show them the story of Henry Whitacre. Henry, 4, was in need of a lot of help – he required a kidney.

With damaged and weak kidneys, young Henry has to go for dialysis as his kidneys are unable to do the job that is needed to keep his body nice and safe. At the Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, Riley enjoys a wonderful game of basketball with the nurses from his crib, looking like a child who is completely free of pain or fear.

The poor child suffered from a bladder condition from birth, and it stopped his kidneys from developing properly in utero. This meant that he was left with a serious renal disease from birth, and spent a huge amount of time in intensive care. For four days a week, Riley undergoes four hours’ worth of treatment. Larger than life despite being just three feet, the little one was in need of serious help – this could not go on forever.

On July 18th, he celebrated his birthday – turning 4. He enjoyed some time with his nurses and with his family, and also got to enjoy two new toys. One of them, a Mr. Potato Head from the Toy Story franchise. The other? A kidney.

A Life Changing Experience

Emily Jones and Kevin Whitacre, the happy parents of this amazing child, decided to reach out for help to find a kidney via social media. And old school friend called Colleen Carnes got in touch, and as former best friends they managed to hit it off once again after quite some time without talking. According to Emily: “There’s not a childhood memory that I have that doesn’t have her in it,”

While they drifted a bit after High School, they maintained long-distance friendship via Facebook and spoke from time to time. After sending out a “raw” plea for help via Facebook, she found a message in her inbox from Carnes, saying: “Hey, I talked to your donor (coordinator), I’m a match, send me the paperwork to start the testing.”

“I kind of knew then that this is who is going to give her kidney to my kid. It’s surreal for me to think about the fact that I have a child that requires all this. But to know that somebody else is willing to step in and say ‘I want to give you this gift,’ I don’t think the reality has completely sunk in.”

It’s an amazing story and a hugely positive turn after many donors simply did not work out. The little one then underwent his surgery under the steady hand of Dr. William Goggins, who has performed over 2,000 transplants of kidneys – though none quite like this one!

Since Henry is so small, and his long-term history of abdominal surgery so far, the little one was going to be a challenge to operate on. However, by 5:20PM, Henry had his kidney and was well on the way to being happier, healthier and – crucially – out of that hospital bed.

It’s expected that, throughout this life he will need as many as three kidneys – with the average kidney transplant lasting 12-15 years. While there is a shortage, the creation of an artificial kidney is underway: by the time he needs his second kidney, the hope is that this tech will be available.

Get better soon, Henry – we’re cheering for you!

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