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Jada’s story: Getting the gift of life
April 06, 2023
CHoR kidney transplant patient Jada and her dad

    The gift of life through kidney transplant at CHoR

    When Nicole Jackson and her family moved to Richmond 14 years ago, one of the first things she looked for was a doctor for her 2-year-old twins, Jada and Jordan. After giving birth at 36 weeks gestation, Nicole said she “found out from nephrologists in the NICU that Jada and Jordan had kidney problems and weren’t going to make it.”

    Six months later, Jada and Jordan had surgery for hydronephrosis, a condition that occurs when urine can’t drain from the kidneys and causes the kidneys to swell. While Jordan’s condition was mild, doctors determined that Jada had one working kidney.

    Jada and Jordan’s hydronephrosis was caused by renal dysplasia, which occurs during the early stages of pregnancy and accounts for 70% of chronic kidney failure in kids. Referred to as a “silent disease” because it often doesn’t have symptoms, renal dysplasia can be diagnosed during a prenatal ultrasound or after birth when a child has chronic urinary tract infections or growth impairments.

    Soon after coming to CHoR, Jada had an ultrasound, which showed her kidney was functioning at 45%. Although she didn’t have symptoms, she continued to be followed by specialists. By the time she was six years old, her kidney function had decreased to 15%, and doctors told Nicole that Jada would need a kidney transplant.

    Building a pediatric transplant program

    A year before Jada was added to the transplant list, Dr. Timothy Bunchman, professor and chief of nephrology, joined the team at CHoR and began building the pediatric transplant program within the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center. One of four pediatric transplant programs in Virginia and 106 across the country, the transplant team completes five to 10 kidney transplants a year, a number higher than the national average of three.

    Ranked on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals list, our nephrology program treats patients with conditions ranging from kidney infections and kidney stones to kidney failure and rare organ abnormalities. The program currently has 40 kids waiting for kidney transplants and follows 400 kids with chronic kidney failure who will require future transplants.

    As medical director of the transplant program, Dr. Bunchman works with “a fantastic team of eight transplant surgeons, nurses and other specialists” to care for patients. Pediatric patients who need kidney transplants also benefit from a dedicated transplant social worker, transplant dietician and transplant nurses to support their needs.

    “We work collectively as a team,” said Dr. Bunchman. “Dr. Megan Lo, nurse practitioners Nancy Simmons and Emily White, registered nurses Jules Cook and Kim Revels, social worker Heather Lambert, dietician Christina Halligan and admin Amanda Hurt are the backbone of excellence within our division and are the ones who work hard for perfection.”

    From finding a match to going home with a new kidney

    Jada was among the 45% of patients who receive kidney transplants from living donors, including relatives. In Jada’s case, her dad, Kwame, was a match, and Jada became one of our team’s first pediatric kidney transplant recipients.

    “We were so excited when we found a match,” said Nicole, whose Facebook post to family and friends led to many relatives being tested to determine if they were a match.

    Following surgery, Nicole was able to stay overnight with Jada while Kwame, who was recovering on another floor, was able to visit with his daughter. Jada also enjoyed many activities provided by the child life team including puzzles, video games, therapy dogs and music therapy.

    “I remember going to the hospital and enjoying my time there because of the nurses and doctors,” Jada said. “The team members had me doing fun activities so it made it less scary.”

    Nicole recalled how team members brought her food and encouraged her to go home to check on her other kids, which in addition to Jordan included five other children who at the time ranged in age from eight to 16.

    “They’re wonderful when it comes to kids,” Nicole said of the CHoR team. “I could go home and not worry because I knew they were always checking on Jada.”

    Nicole said team members referred to Jada as “a fighter” because she was able to get out of bed and walk not long after surgery. Less than a week after receiving her transplant, Jada was allowed to go home.

    Post-transplant follow-up care to keep Jada healthy

    After Jada was discharged, she returned for appointments with the nephrology team, initially three times a week and then once a month. If Jada had issues between visits, Nicole said Dr. Bunchman responded quickly, admitting Jada to the hospital when she had pneumonia or other illnesses.

    “Dr. Bunchman doesn’t play around,” said Nicole. “He wants to make sure nothing is affecting her kidneys.”

    Today, 16-year-old Jada comes to the hospital every three months to have her kidney function checked. A high school sophomore, she enjoys going to the park with her siblings, playing video games and watching music and dance videos on social media.

    “Over the years I quickly adjusted to being in and out of the hospital because I had a lot of support from family, friends and nurses,” Jada said.

    For those kids waiting for a transplant, Jada looked back 10 years and offered some advice.

    “There is nothing to be afraid of,” she said. “You will be greatly supported by nurses and doctors, and they all will treat you with love and respect.”

    Discover more about our nationally ranked kidney care at CHoR.

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