For Tina Mitchell, hearing son, Nathan, say he’s hungry and ask for food still feels like something of a miracle. In his short life he has undergone seven surgeries, but one has made all the difference.
Diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome just before he turned three – a condition in which damaged kidneys leak abnormal amounts of protein into the urine –Nathan’s body was painfully swollen with fluid.
Referred to BC Children’s Hospital’s Nephrology Program, doctors found a genetic condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis was the cause of his kidney problems. Within a year he was so sick he had to be tube-fed.
“With the genetic condition they know that there’s no treatment,” says Tina. “There’s no medicine that works and so the disease just continually breaks down the kidneys until they don’t work anymore, and at that point you need either dialysis or transplant.”
Fortunately for Nathan, transplant was an option, with his grandmother offering to donate a kidney.
“I think maybe the right word for how we felt when we heard my mom was a suitable donor is overjoyed,” says Tina. “It was really hard as parents to know we were not suitable donors because we are carriers of the gene that caused Nathan’s kidney disease. And the fact that she could give him what we couldn’t – a second chance at life – we are just so grateful.”
The difference Nathan’s transplant has made to his quality of life is indescribable says Tina. “I remember he was always in so much pain and exhausted. And after transplant this little ball of energy would bounce into our bed and use his fingers to pry open my eyes. He’d say ‘wake up mum,’ and it was just so different for me to see him up so early and have all this energy. It was just such an absolute joy.”
These days, Nathan is home schooled to help him stay healthy and avoid exposure to infections. He also enjoys going ice skating and swimming, like many kids his age.