MERCED (KPIX) -- The Central Valley of California is home to some of the world's finest farmlands. It's also home to a toddler named Kain.
"With everything that's going on with him, he always has a smile on his face," murmured his mother Sylvia Byrd as she cradled her little boy.
KPIX 5 met Sylvia and Kain at a nearby park in Merced where Byrd recounted her son's early life.
When he was in utero, his bladder got blocked. The blockage ended up destroying both of his kidneys. Doctors told Sylvia that Kain's prognosis at birth would be poor.
"He had like a 10 to 20% chance of making it out of the hospital," remembered Sylvia.
Sylvia had an emergency C-section and Kain was born prematurely.
Because he no longer had functioning kidneys, Kain would need dialysis to filter the waste and extra fluid out of his body. Kain would undergo peritoneal dialysis. Every night, Sylvia cleaned Kain's blood, using a special catheter surgically inserted into the baby's belly.
It is not the best solution. What Kain really needed was a new kidney. But that's easier said than done.
"I can't stress enough how much in demand they are," noted UCSF transplant surgeon Dr. Peter Stock.
12 patients die every day in the United States waiting for a donated kidney.
"At the University of California San Francisco, we have the largest waiting list in the country with well over 4,500 candidates waiting for a kidney transplant," said Stock.
One strategy is to find a living donor. Stock explained most healthy adults can live with one kidney. Kain's family volunteered and got tested. But the best match was mom. The medical staff counseled her, telling her she could always change her mind.
"And I'm like there's no changing my mind. I'm doing this and there's nothing that's going to stop me from doing it," recalled Sylvia.
"It is quite remarkable how every parent will do anything they can to help their suffering child and his mom is no exception," marveled Stock.
The transplant surgeries took place in mid-October at two UCSF hospitals. At UCSF Parnassus, surgeons removed one of Sylvia's kidneys. Because of COVID-19 protocols at the medical center, this KPIX 5 reporter could not be present. However, UCSF videographer Maurice Ramirez captured the surgical pre-operation checkup with Kain from inside the hospital; and then followed Sylvia's kidney after it was surgically removed.
Immediately, the kidney was transported in a special container on ice and in a special solution by car to UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital at Mission Bay. The trip took about half an hour. Kain was prepped. Stock and his team were upstairs, waiting, and ready to go.
"We have a whole team. You can imagine. We have a team of anesthesiologists, we have a team of nurses, we have a team of surgical technicians," Stock.
The procedure took about four hours. The USCF surgeon strategically transplanted Sylvia's entire adult kidney into Kain.
"Immunologically, it is advantageous, there's a less chance of rejection. Plus, it supplies them with a larger mass of tissue that will last with him as he grows," explained the veteran surgeon.
Seven weeks later, KPIX 5 met up with Sylvia and Kain, finally ready to head home to Merced.
"Doctor Stock, he's an amazing doctor," exclaimed Sylvia.
Thanks to the non-profit Nancy and Steve Grand Family House, Sylvia temporarily lived in the Bay Area, where she could walk to the hospital to visit Kain as he recuperated.
"They're awesome. They're always kind and gives that little feeling of home away from home," explained Sylvia.
Christmas came early this year and not just for mother and son.
"I can't begin to describe to you the incredible feeling of being able to help another person and watching a loved one give a kidney to another person," said Stock.
As for Sylvia, she is thrilled to take her baby home.
"This is going to be our first Christmas home since he's been born. Every Christmas time since he's been born, he's been in the hospital. So, I'm excited this is our first Christmas home," rejoiced the young mother.
On December 23rd, Sylvia reported that her little boy was doing great. Not everyone is as lucky as Kain. In the United States, more than 102,000 patients are waiting for kidneys.
Stock asks that everyone consider signing a donor card. He also is urging everyone to get vaccinated against COVID 19. He explained that the vaccine won't only protect you against serious illness, but it will protect all the transplant patients.
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