“They’ve done wonders,” Brandy Richmond says about our kidney team and how they helped her 5-year-old daughter Leelynd.
For nearly four years, Leelynd spent 12 hours each day undergoing dialysis, a treatment that involves having a machine do the job her failing kidneys couldn’t do for her body. She was also unable to eat by mouth due to related issues and had a gastrostomy tube (feeding tube connected to her stomach) placed for her nutrition.
Today – two years after a kidney transplant – Leelynd’s life looks very different. “She’s thriving,” Brandy says of her outgoing, full-of-life daughter.
Now free of what Brandy calls “hardware,” Leelynd no longer needs dialysis, a feeing tube or a central line for daily blood draws. She has more time each day for making childhood memories. For Leelynd, this means more afternoons spent playing in their family’s backyard alongside her nine siblings, more time to join them for Play-Doh building fun, and being there more often to help and hold her younger sister’s hand.
An organ donor provided Leelynd with “hope,” Brandy says, but she credits her progress to the efforts of our dedicated team. “They brought her to this point,” she says thankfully. “They did the work to get her where she is today.”
Challenges from day two
Leelynd was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease two days after she was born. Even then, her kidneys were in an advanced state of loss of function, unable to work as they should to support her body’s needs. She was initially treated at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center as her family was living nearby in Baltimore at the time. They relocated to Richmond’s West End when Leelynd was 18 months old and her doctors referred her to Dr. Timothy Bunchman, chief of our nephrology program.
Our program has been ranked among the nation’s best for kidney care by U.S. News & World Report five times. We provide a full range of services for common to complex conditions. Our unique team approach includes nurses, kidney specialists, nurse educators, dietitians and social workers who address medical needs and provide guidance and support managing the challenges these medical issues bring to a child’s daily life,
Kidneys remove waste and fluid from the body and restore important chemicals. It can be life-threatening and cause widespread issues if the kidneys don’t work properly. “It’s amazing what they do for us,” Brandy notes. “We take it for granted.”
Leelynd began dialysis the second week of her life. Each night she was hooked to a machine that circulated cleansing fluid through a tube in a cavity near her belly and then removed waste and extra fluids from her body. She was put on a transplant list once her nutritional status reached a certain level, and just over two years ago a kidney became available.
Leelynd underwent the transplant procedure on Halloween of 2016. About a month before, she developed an infection where her dialysis was administered so she began hemodialysis – a process with a similar end result involving blood being removed, filtered outside the body, then returned. We are the only program in the state that provides infant/toddler hemodialysis and she came to our Children’s Pavilion five days a week for this four-hour process. “Her doctors did not want to risk infection in that area in preparation for the transplant,” Brandy explains.
The surgery went well and Leelynd’s progress has been steady. She was up and walking within five days and her family was excited to see her eat by mouth while still in the hospital. A quarter of a meatball was the first thing she tried, then small morsels of food each following day. Six months later, she no longer needed the feeding tube. “Now she’s like any other kid,” Brandy adds. “And she loves to eat. Tacos and pizza are her favorite.”
The nurturing one
With such a big family and so many medical appointments, our focus on caring for the whole family – including siblings – is one of things Brandy appreciates about how we provide care. Our RMHC Sibling Center is a strong example of this, but Brandy points out that personal touches, like staff members who make sure siblings also get a book to take home when they come for appointments, make a difference as well: “Often siblings’ needs get pushed aside and it just makes everyone feel better, including the parents and the child who is there for care, that they are so nice to the siblings who are there to help out.”
Leelynd’s brothers and sisters range in age from 10 months to 17 years. Among the close-knit group, Leelynd is known for her hearty, contagious laugh and for her nurturing nature. One of Leelynd’s favorite activities is playing doctor or nurse. “She does it all the time,” Brandy says. “She sets up shop with expired medicine droppers and band-aids and wears gloves and a mask.”
Leelynd also very much enjoys caring for her 10-month-old brother and likes to be the one pushing her younger siblings in the stroller. Her three-year-old sister is legally blind and she is very watchful and protective of her. Brandy says she can always count on Leelynd to help her safely get around.
Leelynd’s nurturing spirit may come from having a life filled with medical issues, or it may be who she was always meant to be, but Brandy emphasizes that the compassion and care Leelynd and their family experienced here has been a positive example for her to follow. “They’re very personable, very wonderful,” she remarks about the team that changed Leelynd’s life in many ways. “We used to call them every night before the transplant. Now we just talk with them about every six weeks, and it’s actually bittersweet.”
Leelynd’s family would like to dedicate this article in loving memory of Leelynd’s very special friend and “kidney buddy,” Keshauna (pictured with her in 2017). They met while both were undergoing treatment for kidney issues and became fast friends. Keshauna’s giggly, happy personality endeared her to Leelynd’s entire family. A picture of the girls together is part of a family photo display in their living room and Keshauna’s joyful spirit lives on in their hearts.