When Brielle was 11 months old, she was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor in both kidneys. The kidneys were removed four months later, and she began dialysis four times a week with the hope of eventually getting a transplant. After being cancer-free for two years, Brielle became a candidate for kidney transplant.
“Pediatric kidney transplants are not common, but when they are needed it is a big issue and the result of a big disease,” says Dr. Rajab. “In cases like Brielle’s, a tumor causes the loss of the kidneys. For other children, congenital disease, urology malanatomy or other disease results in the need for a kidney transplant.”
At Nationwide Children’s, about 80 percent of patients who receive a kidney transplant receive one from a live donor — often a family member. In Brielle’s case, neither of her parents were a match. The wait for a cadaveric organ or volunteer donor began.
Brielle’s mother created a Facebook page chronicling Brielle’s illness and updating her progress. Then something completely unexpected happened: A friend from the church Brielle’s family attended, a man they had spoken to several times but didn’t know well, offered to donate one of his kidneys. Tim had seen Brielle’s Facebook page and the various photos of her in the hospital. A father of three, he explained to Brielle’s mother, Alysia, that he would have wanted someone to do the same if one of his kids needed a kidney.
“It’s very humbling. What do you even say to something like that?” Alysia said.
In July of 2015, Brielle finally received her kidney.
After surgery, a couple of days before her expected release from the hospital, Brielle spiked a fever and struggled to breathe. She was diagnosed with acute tubular necrosis, a disorder in which tissues of the kidney tubule, become damaged or destroyed.
“Brielle’s care after surgery was complicated. But we follow our patients very closely before, during and after surgery. The nephrologists are involved in care throughout,” says Dr. Rajab. “We were able to manage the tubular necrosis and after a few additional weeks of hospitalization, Brielle was able to go home.”
At home, Brielle has continued to recover. She no longer needs dialysis and is learning how to tolerate food in her mouth, having been tube-fed for most of her life. And while they are aware of the life-long challenges of being a transplant recipient, for now Brielle’s parents are savoring the changes they’ve seen in her.
“She’s been incredibly healthy this year,’’ Alysia said. “She’s been, by far, the healthiest she’s ever been.”