4-year-old meets his kidney donor for the first time

Ruth Powell has always believed in organ donation. She is identified as an organ donor on her driver’s license, and as an employee at University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, she’s heard countless stories of lives having been saved by organ donation.

But it wasn’t until she attended a ceremony honoring the 5,000th organ transplant at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and UI Children’s Hospital that the idea of being a living donor really hit home.

“I was touched by all of the stories shared, but the story of two friends – one needing a kidney and the other offering his and being a match – provided new insight for me,” Ruth says. “They ended their presentation with, ‘Share your spare.’ ”

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Ruth says she was at a comfortable place in her life: she enjoyed her work, had good friends, and she and her husband were enjoying more time together since their sons had grown.

“I recognized that if I could help someone else by donating a kidney I didn’t want to miss that opportunity,” she says.

So that’s what she did. On July 14, Ruth donated her kidney with then-3-year-old Joshua Warren of Altoona, Iowa. Joshua had been born with just one kidney, and that one worked at just 15 percent of normal capacity. Though he did not have to be on dialysis, he was not the rambunctious toddler he should have been. His growth had been affected, and he had difficulty eating.

That all changed with his new kidney.

Ruth met Joshua, now 4, and his parents, Amy and Brad, on September 15, when they were in Iowa City for an iron infusion for Joshua. The Warrens wanted to meet her and thank her for the gift she had given their son.

“He has so much more energy now,” Amy says. “He doesn’t know a lot about it, but we know his life is going to be so much better because of Ruth. He knows he got a new kidney and he knows he feels so much better, and he knows Ruth made him feel that way.”

“I also know what it feels like as a mom to not be able to put a Band-Aid on the problem, to not be able to ‘make it all better.’ As a mom, that is a very frustrating feeling,” Ruth says.

When she met with the Warrens, she had some advice for Amy: “You get to just be a mom. You don’t have to be a doctor, too.”

Though Ruth didn’t have a specific recipient in mind, she had indicated she’d prefer her kidney go to a child. She works primarily with children as a physical therapist assistant, and knows how important it is to let “kids focus on being kids.”

“I learned that a transplanted kidney from a live donor could be expected to function for 25 years in the recipient,” Ruth says. “A person can do a lot of living in that time span, especially a child!”

Amanda Coulter is a pediatric transplant coordinator at UI Children’s Hospital, and worked with the Warrens while Joshua was waiting for a kidney. She says organs are needed for patients of all ages, but children face an additional challenge when they’re waiting.

“For kids it’s a little different than it is with adults, because they’re still growing and developing,” she says. “When they’re in renal failure, for instance, they have inadequate growth and development. They miss school, they have very restrictive diets, they can’t do things their friends or siblings can do.

“The most rewarding thing when they get their transplant is that they thrive – they grow, they develop, they get to be a normal kid again,” she adds.

Ruth is grateful to have had a hand in making that possible for Joshua.

“I have returned to work and my life is back to normal.  If I didn’t know I’d donated a kidney, I wouldn’t know there was anything different,” she says. “So hearing Amy’s appreciation and being reminded of the difference I made in their life was kind of hard to take in.”

“I don’t feel that I did that big of thing, even though I know it is a big thing,” Ruth adds. “I shared my spare kidney. But seeing Joshua running and playing and realizing that his family is one step closer to being just a normal family doing everyday things, and hopefully in the future all the hospital visits and worry will be behind them, makes me very glad that I donated.”

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