CLEVELAND – Brian Miller clutched a tiny hand in the waiting room.
Among the hugs, kisses and prayers early that morning, Brian whispered “I love you, sweet pea,” to the little girl he held close.
The girl, Nicole, is Brian’s eight-year-old daughter. She joked and played with him, moments before she went into the operating room at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital. She was about to get a kidney transplant.
“For me it’s a relief,” he said. “I’m just so…that’s the one word that describes all my emotion is relief.”
It’s the relief that Brian and his wife, Letitia, have been waiting for ever since their child was born.
A GIRL’S GENETIC DISORDER
Nicole has a genetic disorder, branchiootorenal syndrome, which affects a person’s hearing and kidneys. She was born with one kidney, and it’s been failing her whole life. Often, Nicole would be too sick to go to school.
Yet, that’s where the family eventually found their donor.
This past year, doctors encouraged the family to search for a living kidney donor. The family reached out to the Mansfield Christian School community, where Nicole attends school.
Brian said 18 people stepped forward to donate.
None of them were a match.
However, that all changed during a parent-teacher conference.
Letitia went to meet with Nicole’s kindergarten teacher, Wendy Killian. They talked about the little girl’s health, and Wendy realized that she might be eligible to help.
Nicole’s mom wasn’t so sure, but after months of testing, Wendy was qualified and ready to help Nicole, whom she dubs her “little sunshine girl.”
A LIFE-SAVING OPERATION
On April 23, the families invited Fox 8 News as the only TV station to join them on the day of the surgery. We even had access to the operating room.
“It started out like any other surgery,” Brian said. “It was stressful having her go in, but it was very comforting for Nicole to have Wendy in the same pre-op room.”
As Nicole was wheeled off to surgery, she reached out to her parents one last time.
“We’ll see you when you wake up,” Brian said to Nicole, holding back his tears. “Bye, sweetie. Daddy loves you.”
Dressed with a surgical cap and in a tiger-decorated gown, Nicole looked back at her parents one last time.
“Everything was going pretty good up until that point, and when she reached out her hand,” he said later that day. “It’s that feeling of out of control and when she started wiping the tears because she wanted us to go back with her. I mean, as a parent, your first instinct is to protect your child and so you want to go with her and be there with her, but you just, you just can’t. She has to go through this procedure. It’s very sad in a way”
The transplant surgeries spanned from early morning well into the afternoon. They were a success.
“They said [Nicole’s surgery] was about four-and-a-half hours,” Letitia said. “So, it was just a really long day of just waiting to hear good word, and when she was wheeled out, they let us come out into the hallway to see her, and she looked… she just looked so good. I was shocked.”
A SWIFT RECOVERY
A few days after surgery, Wendy was cleared to go home.
“I felt very calm,” Wendy said, looking back on the surgery. “I knew that the Lord had orchestrated this whole thing, so I knew we were both in good hands, and actually I was excited.”
She will return to her husband and two sons, including one who inspired her to do the transplant surgery.
Wendy’s son, William, needed a blood platelet transfusion at birth. If it weren’t for a donor, her nine-year-old would not have survived.
“What’s next for me is just normal life,” Wendy said. “I get to be a mom and a teacher and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, so I’m very, very blessed. And, for Nicole, my hope for her is that she just continues to do better and that she gets a chance to be a little girl and live out the life that God has for her.”
Days after surgery, Nicole was in good spirits. Her parents said the transplant was a true transformation. Doctors were surprised by how quickly she rebounded from the operation.
“I think it was the third day when she just started to feel better,” Brian said. “You could see her kidney functions kick in. We said, ‘hey, do you want to go to the play room,’ and she practically jumped out of bed and ran over here. She was stronger and more aggressive.”
LIFE AFTER THE TRANSPLANT
A week after surgery, doctors cleared Nicole to go home. Wendy and Nicole will require frequent doctor’s visits, though Nicole’s long-term care will be more elaborate.
Her parents say she’ll have to take more than a dozen pills a day at very specific times.
“The kidney, we hope, will last between 15 and 25 years,” Brian said. “Obviously, the longer the better. And then she will be on anti-rejection medicines the rest of her life. For what she’s receiving, a new life and a new lot on life, it’s definitely worth it.”
Doctors say it will take Wendy and Nicole a few weeks before they can return to normal activities. The two will miss the remainder of the school year at Mansfield Christian School.
Brian is chronicling the experience on his blog.
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