At barely 10 years old, Brendan Elam of Kearney was a ticking time bomb. Deep in his body, his young liver looked like cooked hamburger. Born with a genetic disorder called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, he needed a transplant to survive.
By JAMES A. FUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
Thanks to an organ donor, he got one.
On Saturday at Childrens Mercy Hospital, representatives of the hospital and the Midwest Transplant Network held a Family Circle Rose Ceremony to celebrate the lives of children who died and the families who gave the gift of life to patients, including Brendan, by donating their organs.
One by one, as their childrens names were called, mothers and fathers from throughout the region walked to the front of the room to receive a rose and a statue of an angel.
Many walked back in tears.
Brendans father, Jason Elam, assured them their loved ones had not died in vain. With his wife, Stacy, and 11-year-old Brendan by his side, Elam told the story of how his sons life had been saved by an organ donor.
Since birth, Brendans liver didnt function as it should.
It was an enzyme issue, he said. When you get sick, your immune system sends out antibodies to take care of the disease. Your liver then produces an enzyme that (neutralizes) those antibodies so that they dont continue to attack healthy cells. His liver did not produce those enzymes.
Although Brendan felt fine through much of grade school, the doctors knew that, sooner or later, his liver would fail.
He went on a transplant list in March 2012. Over the next few months, as he endured severe abdominal pain and 105-degree temperatures, his parents waited for the lifesaving call. As they did, they began to say an uncomfortable prayer not only for Brendan, but for the strength of a (donor) family at a time of a great loss.
They knew their sons life depended on it.
Finally, at lunch on a cold December day in 2012, the call came.
The transplant saved his life just in time.
His body accepted the transplant. Six days after the operation, he raced his nurse down the hallway.
The next day he went home.
Today he is healthy and back in school with a fully functioning liver.
At his one-year checkup, Brendan had grown 5 inches and gained a little over 20 pounds, his father told the group. Today he has experienced no rejection issues.
He thanked Brendans medical team, then addressed those in the audience.
On behalf of all transplant recipients, we wish to express our gratitude and love to you and all donor families for your strength, foresight and generosity during such a difficult time, he said in a tremulous voice, pausing several seconds to compose himself. Your gifts will be honored and cherished for the rest of our lives.
Next, Barb Starr of Blue Springs gave the group a look at a different side of organ donation. Her son, David Starr, died at age 19 in a car accident in 1991.
She knew there was nothing she could do for him, but she agreed to organ donation in hopes of helping someone else.
Doctors transplanted Davids heart into a middle-aged man in Utah who had four children between the ages of 10 and 20. With Davids heart beating strong in his chest, the man lived 18 more years and saw his children grow up.
She missed her son greatly. But it made her happy knowing that she and her son had played a role in helping another family make many happy memories.
Later, her youngest son, Kit, donated one of his kidneys.
He said, Mom, if David had been dying because he needed an organ instead of being in a car accident and somebody did that for us, just think how different our lives would have been.
Pam Mayberry of the Midwest Transplant Network told families that roses had been placed in honor of their children on the Donate Life float in the recent Tournament of Roses Parade. Then she told them what their generosity meant.
In 2012, she said, patients received transplants of numerous organs, including one intestine, four hearts, four lungs, four pancreases, 11 livers and 24 kidneys.
In addition, she said, 24 recipients received the gift of enhanced sight through cornea donations.
The Elams dont know the family whose child donated the liver to Brandon. But
Our gratitude is huge, he said. We would love nothing more than to meet them and wrap them in our arms and say Thank you and share with them the life that they have given to us and that theyve given to our son.
Said Brendan, simply: Thanks.
To reach James A. Fussell, call 816-234-4460 or send email to email@example.com.