Living organ donation saves two lives

Garret Fenner is almost the second son Sara Anderson never had.

If he’s at Anderson’s house playing with his son Caiden, which is common, and he’s craving a snack, which is also common, he knows which cupboard the bowl and cereal are in.

Anderson, a quality and accreditation specialist at Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota, said she would do whatever she could to help Garret.

So when Anderson learned that Garret was in desperate need of a kidney, due to a diagnosis of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), she wanted to show him that she meant it.

FSGS is a serious condition in which scar tissue develops on various parts of the kidneys, which are responsible for filtering waste products from the blood.

“He ended up having to have both kidneys removed. I am of the same blood group as him. So let’s see what we can do,” she said.

Make sure the parts match

When it came to whether Anderson was a perfect match for Garret, it was like putting together a long, complicated, and arduous puzzle.

You know those. Where each piece is the same color, and there are no identifiable strokes.

Anderson and Garret underwent the first rounds of tests to determine if the donation would work. A donations coordinator called Anderson with good news, saying everything looked good. But, they would like to do some additional testing to make sure Anderson was a perfect match.

That meant Anderson would have to go to the University of Minnesota and go through a full day of end-to-end testing.

“At the very end (of the day), we found out that I was not a direct match for Garret,” Anderson said.

Considering both the emotional connection they had and the amount of work they had done so far, it was hard to accept.

However, it wasn’t all bad news.

The donations committee had approved Anderson for the surgery. They explained that if Anderson wanted to continue kidney donation, she could still get a healthy kidney for Garret.

She could sign up for the National Kidney Registry, donate her kidney to someone else who needed it, and Garret could get a kidney from someone else.

“He could still have his kidney, even if I couldn’t give him one. That’s what we ended up doing because this trip was all about making sure Garret got what he needed. And it was to get that kidney,” Anderson explained.

2 steps forward, 1 step back

Garret had both of his kidneys removed in February 2020 at the University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. He is on dialysis and has lived there ever since.

Anderson said that due to the unexpected pivot they had to do, she still had to undergo more tests. Luckily, she didn’t have to travel back and forth between Fargo and Minneapolis.

“It was so nice to be able to do all my tests that I needed to do – my blood tests, my urinalysis, my tests, I was able to do it here at Sanford. Using electronic medical records, they were able to send everything directly to the University of Minnesota,” she said.

Fast forward to April 2020. The University of Minnesota said all of his results looked good and asked him to come a full day to take a last look at everything.

You’ve probably heard of the phrase “same song, different verse.” Unfortunately for Garrett and Anderson, that’s the melody they heard.

“The committee first approved everything. Garret looked good. All of his numbers looked good for surgery. Then we looked at him and our numbers didn’t match perfectly because he was only 14 years old. At the time, the numbers did not match perfectly.

“They wanted to make sure he got the best, youngest and healthiest kidney possible. So it could last him the longest,” she said.

Finally matched

Months passed before Anderson was matched with a patient who was cross-matched. The perfect match, if you will, was paired in August. On the 11th of this month, Anderson underwent surgery to remove his kidney, where he was airlifted to the patient at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland.

A month later, Garret received his kidney from a patient in San Francisco.

Anderson said she didn’t know who her kidney went directly to, other than that the patient was in her 40s and 50s. However, if that patient chose, Anderson allowed them to contact her.

“Something that my husband and I talked about is do I want to know who it is? Is not it? What if something goes wrong? Do I want to know? she says.

Her doctor informed her that the recipient was “doing very well” and that the operation went well.

Garret, who received his kidney from a 25-year-old man, also underwent successful surgery.

Anderson and his family were supported by the Fenner family during Anderson’s surgery. She felt it was right to return the favor.

“Her mother and I are best friends. When I had my surgery, Garret and his mother were really helpful to my husband and me. They made sure my husband was taken care of whether it was food or coffee or whatever he needed when I was in the hospital. So when Garret had surgery, I made sure to go back down to Minneapolis and bring them food, coffee.

“I had this (thought) ‘I need to be for them now. I need to help them again,'” she said.

‘He feels good’

Anderson said she was “beyond grateful” to be able to help both Garret and another person, whom she may never meet.

Garret was on the deceased donor list, Anderson said, and likely would have remained there until someone donated to put him on the living donor list. As a pediatric patient, it is best for Garrett to receive a live kidney, “because it will give him the best results.”

“He can probably have it longer before he needs another transplant. Essentially, the kidney will only last him maybe 25 or 30 years before he needs another kidney transplant.

“Knowing that once I signed up to do this for him, it put him on the living donor list. Then as soon as I had my surgery, it put him on the priority list. “, she said.

According to Anderson, Garret unfortunately had complications after a kidney transplant. For this reason, he is still at the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis. Garret and Caiden miss each other but, “luckily, with the technology we have, Caiden and Garret can see each other via FaceTime, play Xbox/PS4 together online, and play computer games together online,” Anderson said.

“We were very lucky that our families were able to spend time together here and there over the weekend. We are very careful who we are around before spending time with them. And, we test for COVID before also just to make sure.

More than anything, Anderson wants Garret to be able to be a normal kid again.

“Run him around my house and rummage through my closets, that’s the end goal. To make them come home and be a happy, healthy child.

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Posted in Fargo, Sanford Stories, Transplantation

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