Bloomington, Indiana – September 5, 2017 – September 14th is going to be a big day of celebrating and reminiscing for a Nevada family. September 14th is the two-year anniversary of Mom Jennifer’s early morning paired organ transplant procedure that allowed her son, Zackery, to receive his life-saving kidney transplant later that day.
Zackery Dado was born to Jennifer and Nhil Dado in July 2007. They had been excitedly preparing for the arrival of their child who would be welcomed at home by big brother Jonathan and big sister Madison. However, excitement quickly turned to concern when right after he was born they were told the newborn was hemorrhaging and needed to be resuscitated. Unfortunately, Zack’s kidneys never recovered from this nightmare.
Zack spent the next seven years growing up like other little boys, but he did tire more quickly than his friends. In May 2014, Jennifer and Nhil were told Zack would need a kidney transplant for continued growth and development to occur, and ultimately for his long-term survival. By October, Zack’s kidneys were close to failing and the search began to find a kidney donor match. Zack was put on regional and national registries and family members and friends also stepped up to be tested, but a match could not be found due to Zack’s antibodies.
Jennifer remembers talking to the transplant coordinator at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento and expressing her frustration while asking a million questions about different approaches that could be used to find a kidney donor for Zack. She and Nhil were becoming increasingly heartbroken as they watched their son getting weaker and more tired, basically lacking the energy his friends had. The transplant coordinator told Jennifer a paired organ donation was another option that could be explored and researched.
After four months of searching and not being able to find a suitable kidney match for Zack through the registry systems, Jennifer decided she would donate her kidney as part of a paired organ donor process. Paired organ donation is a transplant option for candidates like Zack who have a living donor (Mom Jennifer) who is medically able to donate but incompatible.
“I have always been an organ donor on my Nevada driver’s license but as a registered nurse, I was not aware that a person could donate while you were still alive,” said Jennifer. “We had been working so hard to find a donor for Zack and he was not getting any better. I knew if a donor was not found soon, he was going to have to start dialysis. That would mean we would have to leave our home in Reno and move to Sacramento, California. I was excited to learn that by donating my kidney to a stranger it would be easier to find a kidney match for Zack.”
Zack continued to have regular appointments in Sacramento once the paired organ donor search was launched. Jennifer remembers talking with their transplant coordinator in May 2015 and being asked if she and Nhil had a plan for the transplant-related expenses that were not going to be covered by health insurance. Jennifer told her they had been saving money but admitted they were both a little scared. They would, however, do whatever needed to be done to get Zack a new kidney. The transplant coordinator suggested they research the Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) because it was an organization that specialized in fundraising for transplants, and she expressed her high regards for the team at COTA.
Jennifer called the COTA 800 number a week later. When she received the return call from COTA she quickly found a chair in the hospital lobby where she works as a nurse. “As I sat there listening to all of guidance and support COTA offers, I felt a huge sense of relief rush over me and for the first time I thought, you know … this is going to be OK. I immediately starting calling friends, work colleagues and family members who had wanted to do something to help because this was definitely it.”
COTA uniquely understands that parents who care for a child or young adult before, during and after a life-saving transplant have enough to deal with, so COTA’s model shifts the responsibility for fundraising to a community team of trained volunteers. COTA is a 501(c)3 charity so all contributions to COTA in honor of Zackery D are tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law, and these COTA funds are available for his lifetime.
COTA sent a fundraising specialist to the Dado’s hometown of Reno, Nevada, in mid-June 2015 to train the volunteers. The COTA team of volunteers quickly got to work organizing fundraisers to raise funds for transplant-related expenses, which was very helpful because ‘the call’ the family had been desperately waiting for came just a few months later.
In August 2015, Jennifer received a call about a possible two-way paired organ exchange. Both she and Zack had their pre-op appointments on September 9th in Sacramento and on September 14th, the transplants were performed. Jennifer’s surgery took place early in the morning and Zack’s transplant followed at 2:00 pm that day. He was taken to a room in the ICU about 9:30 pm and Jennifer was wheeled up to his room at 10:00 pm. While still recovering from surgery herself, she was so glad to see him lying there in recovery. Amazingly, Zack was discharged on September 21st and the family stayed at a hotel very close to the transplant center. Zack’s blood was drawn every other day to check Prograf levels and kidney function. Jennifer, Zack and Nhil returned home to Reno on September 30th.
Many tests and medications and precautions were taken over subsequent months. On December 8th the family drove back to Sacramento for the first biopsy of Zack’s transplanted kidney. He did great and they were able to return home the same day. The test results showed early signs of rejection so Zack started taking a high dose of IV steroids for three days and high dose oral steroids for about a month. They returned to UC Davis Medical Center to repeat the biopsy on Christmas Eve and this time the results were much better — no signs of rejection.
“I am so honored to have been able to give the gift of life to a stranger so I could help my child receive his second chance at life,” Jennifer said. “Since our transplants, I have told so many people how amazing and awesome it is when you can make a life-saving difference for another … and then to be able to watch your beautiful, healthy child grow and enjoy life is priceless.”
Throughout the end of 2015, the COTA in honor of Zackery D volunteers worked tirelessly to organize fundraisers to help with transplant-related expenses. Jennifer and Nhil will be forever grateful for their friends and family members who were dedicated and determined to support this family through not one, but two transplants.
“We simply could not have made it through this transplant journey without the help of our volunteers, COTA and the many resources they offer,” said Jennifer. “COTA made everything so much less stressful and COTA allowed us to breathe. We did not have to worry about selling our house and still today we do not feel despair as medical bills arrive in the mail. I found the staff at COTA to always be willing to listen and to help, and to put forth an extra helping hand when it was sorely needed.”
“To anyone who is questioning whether or not to become part of the COTA family, do not question your decision any longer. Do it. This is an amazing organization and an amazing group of professionals. Please let them be part of your family’s transplant journey. They will relieve so much pressure for you … they will truly give you hope,” Jennifer said.
Today Zack is enjoying life as a normal 10-year-old, which was one of his post-transplant goals: to be able to have a fun-filled life without getting tired all of the time. Zack loves to play baseball, to skateboard and to build Legos. He has been able to enjoy swimming for the first time and he absolutely loves riding his bike.
According to his mom, Zack’s new kidney is awesome and she hopes her kidney’s recipient is doing awesome as well.