SUNMAN – On his family's farm, Hunter Meyer's favorite animals are the relatively new chickens. He has started to name them – Chickie Ham and Bean.
The 5-year-old loves to play Legos with 8-month-old brother Cooper and, coming up in a few months, pick corn and pumpkins. His No. 1 TV show is "Power Rangers."
Hunter wants a rocket.
Last fall as he began the kindergarten routine, the child "was sleeping more than he did before," recalls dad Matt.
Mom Brittany says, "We just thought it was going to school." Matt recalls, "The bus driver had made comments, 'Is he OK? Is he getting enough sleep?'"
Matt Meyer, 35, who brings his crops to the Batesville Farmers' Market, says, "He didn't have a lot of energy." Meyer always thought his oldest son "was a really calm, laid back kid. But no, he was sick."
"I just was not really that concerned" at first when Hunter had a fever around Christmas, says Brittany, 28, a registered nurse who is the St. Elizabeth, Fort Thomas, Kentucky, weekend team lead in the cardiac and stroke unit.
Originally she thought maybe he had pneumonia.
Pediatrician Veronica Jensen, Bright, "thought he looked pale, so she drew a hemoglobin level in the office. It came back 6.5 (normal for a child is 10-12). So that warranted us to a visit to Children’s hospital," wrote Brittany May 15 on a Hunter Henry’s Hero’s Facebook post.
At Cincinnati Children's, "they drew bloodwork after bloodwork to see why his hemoglobin was so low. What came back was his creatinine (a blood level that shows kidney function) was 8.6. Normal for him should have been less than 0.5. Obviously, that is ridiculously high, so we were admitted to the PICU so they could watch his electrolytes and be prepared for emergency dialysis.
"We made it through the first night without needing dialysis ... But his hemoglobin was 5.2 and he did need a blood transfusion that morning. And they put him on the surgery schedule to put his dialysis catheter in. He got it placed that afternoon and he had his first dialysis treatment that evening," according to the Facebook post.
Hunter was diagnosed with kidney dysplasia. Both kidneys were small "and they didn't grow with him," explains his dad.
While the parents noticed no symptoms, his mom says, "Looking back, he didn't eat very well. He's very picky. They say it's probably because he was nauseated with a metallic taste in his mouth all the time."
"We ended up staying in the hospital for five days getting everything stabilized. Now we continue to go to Children’s on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for his dialysis treatments.
"And these continue until he gets a kidney transplant – which is hopefully sooner than later."
Learning the diagnosis and treatment was a shock for the parents. "Time wasn't moving at that point," according to Matt.
In addition to dialysis, "we try to follow a specific diet," Brittany explains. "He can't eat a lot of salt or phosphorus. He can only drink about 1,000 milliliters a day (a liter)."
Hunter, whose grandparents are Paul and Carolyn Meyer, Milan, and Doug and Dawn Beckerich, California, Kentucky, is weighed at the hospital before each treatment. If his body contains excessive water, a machine pulls it off, causing cramps and headaches.
The dressing over his dialysis catheter attached to his chest must be changed once a week to prevent infection. "He despises the tape being pulled off of his skin ... It’s always a crying ordeal," but recently Hunter took part of it off himself and he realized that it didn’t hurt, another Facebook post reported.
When asked if he has gotten more brave because of these hospital visits, the boy solemnly nods yes.
The Meyers estimate their son is one of probably 30 or 40 kids undergoing one of two types of dialysis. "They come from all over the country. Three don't speak English," the farmer says.
The parents attend a care plan meeting monthly, "where we meet with his entire team – doctors, nurses, dietitian, social worker" – to get updates.
Because of dialysis and the special diet, "he feels better now than he did before," his dad observes. They are seeing their son's true personality, energetic instead of lethargic. One June morning, he's hanging from trees in the front yard and playing catch with his cousins, great-grandmother visiting from Montana and her dog.
Matt is frustrated about one thing. Because of the dialysis line into his chest, "see, he can't this wet so he can't get a shower .... We had a little blowup pool and that's what he loves and all he talks about. I took it down and got rid of it. None of that this year until he gets a kidney."
How will the Meyers feel when a donor is identified and the surgeries for both Hunter and the donor are completed? "Relieved," they both agreed.
What will it mean for the boy and his entire family? "Freedom from the hospital," his mother answers.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.
How to become a kidney donor or help with medical expenses
• The ideal kidney donor will be between 18-55, reports Cincinnati Children's living donor coordinator Laura Mooney. Brittany Meyer advises, "The younger the better." Matt adds, "They would really love to see a 20- or 30-year-old" volunteer because a kidney from a young donor will be healthier and last longer. According to him, a 55-year-old living kidney would be better than one from a deceased donor, because that organ may have gone through trauma or illness. "It's hard to get that kidney started again."
• A donor's body mass index should be less than 35 (online BMI calculators will ask for height and weight).
• Absolute contraindications (surgery is ruled out because it may be harmful to the person) are any history of cancer, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, high blood pressure that is treated with medicine, history of hepatitis, HIV positive or a terminal illness.
• Persons willing to be evaluated to become kidney donors may call the Cincinnati Children's Pediatric Liver and Kidney Transplant Program, 513-636-7201. They need to leave voicemail messages with a name, phone number and intended recipient. Mooney will return their calls.
• The family is grateful for donations for medical expenses that "show up at the doorstep, in our mailbox, at school," Matt Meyer says. Persons may contribute money for future expenses to Hunter's Kidney Fund at FCN Bank, Sunman. "We would love to be able to give back to the kids in the dialysis unit someday. One guy bought backpacks full of stuff. They just hand them out when kids come in. If we could do that one day, that would be wonderful."