Dad’s priceless gift to son: his left kidney

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Gage Lipscomb, 14, may have a tough time finding the words for his Father’s Day card this year.

His dad, David, has given a lot to Gage and his nine siblings over the years. And on Wednesday, David gave his youngest son a priceless gift: his left kidney.

Gage seemed medically unremarkable until he was 2, when he fell ill with a chronic fever. The family spent months in and out of doctors’ offices near their home in Bryan, a small city next to Texas A&M University. Finally, his mom said, an ultrasound led to a diagnosis: a woefully insufficient renal system.

The toddler was so sick that doctors labeled his condition critical. A medical helicopter flew him to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Surgeons saved his left kidney in May 2005, but they lost his right kidney to an infection.

“They predicted lots of surgeries for Gage, never potty training,” said his mom, Terrie. “None of the things that they predicted have come to pass … We had only one surgery (and) Gage has led a very normal life.”

The family brought their little patient to check in at Texas Children’s a few times a year. He took one pill three times per week. But doctors warned that any infection could wreak havoc on his body.

“Gage only ran a fever one time in 12 years,” Terrie said. “You live in a family with that many children and go to school and never get sick … We don’t really have an explanation. He should have been ill often.”

Instead, he was thriving. He played soccer, sometimes three games a day. He played baseball. He was looking forward to starting high school in the fall and joining the football team, to play along with his brother, a promising senior. Doctors didn’t want Gage getting tackled, so he planned to play kicker. But the transplant means that won’t be possible.

“That’s probably what he’s mourning the most, that he couldn’t play with his brother,” Terrie said.

Aside from regular check-ins and getting medical advice about sports, Gage grew up in a tight-knit Catholic community just like his six brothers and three sisters. He was treated no differently by David, 57, and Terrie, 55.

“Just live your life as normally as you can,” Terrie said, speaking for her family Friday while her husband and son recovered from their surgeries. “Don’t put your child in a bubble … We don’t give him any special treatment. In fact, today I’ve been on him in the ICU because he wasn’t using enough ‘thank yous.’ “

The past school year, that became more difficult. Gage’s surgeon at TCH, Dr. Christine O’Mahony, said he felt worse and worse.

“It’s not really a recent problem,” said O’Mahony, the hospital’s surgical director for kidney transplantation. “It’s just been a constant decline.”

Gradually his kidney would stop functioning sufficiently, and in six months or so he would need dialysis – an unhappy prospect.

“The longer you’re on dialysis, it shortens your life span,” the surgeon said. “Especially for a kid. You don’t grow as well.”

So the hunt for a kidney donor began. Most people have two, and many healthy people can donate without ill effect. But doctors wanted a compatible blood type.

The family had resisted testing for compatibility before Gage needed a donation, on the advice of doctors.

“That was really difficult through the years, wondering who was going to be a match,” Terrie said. “I’m a cancer survivor as of four years ago, so I knew I wasn’t going to be a candidate … We were just wondering which brother it was going to be.”

One brother got tested. They waited a week, on edge. He wasn’t a match.

The doctor suggested testing David, who the family had assumed would be too old to donate. However, parents share 50 percent of a child’s DNA, and David’s blood type was compatible.

So it fell to David. A June 7 operation was scheduled. Then a test came back with a troubling result concerning David’s blood pressure. He went back for another test last month.

“That was very stressful for David,” Terrie said. “If your health doesn’t pass all the tests, you can’t donate … As a parent, you want to say, ‘It doesn’t matter what it does to me. Do it for my child.’ “

“You would give your life for your child, but it wasn’t even our decision,” she said.

Friends supported them, starting a fund-raising campaign to help the family:

“Praying for the Lipscomb Family,” wrote one couple who donated $500. “To know this wonderful family is to know what strength, courage, faith and unconditional love are!”

The family took comfort in their community, their church and their faith.

“I just put it in God’s hands and know that He will give us the strength to deal with whatever comes down our path,” Terrie said.

A few weeks ago, the new results came back. David was cleared. The operation took place Wednesday, with Gage at Texas Children’s and David nearby at St. Luke’s. It took a team of 15 or 20 medical professionals in the operating rooms alone, plus more who worked to prep the two patients.

Everything went well. David’s kidney was removed via laparoscope through a three-centimeter incision, O’Mahony said, so he will recover quickly.

The transplant team took the kidney across the street to Gage’s operating room at Texas Children’s. The implantation was smooth.

“It was a perfect kidney,” O’Mahony said, remembering how it changed color from light gray to bright pink before her eyes, showing that the blood vessels had connected successfully.

“The best feeling in transplants is watching the kidney make urine right in front of your eyes,” she added. “That’s the most satisfying operation that we do.”

Gage will spend a few days in intensive care and a few more days in a normal hospital room before returning home next week, if all goes well. He’ll be back to his favorite sports within a month.

“For the rest of his life he’s going to have to be careful about infections,” O’Mahony said, “but it’s not something that you need to obsess over.”

David likely will leave the hospital this weekend. Other Lipscomb children will come down from Bryan to visit. David plans to head over to Texas Children’s on Sunday to spend Father’s Day with his son.

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