How a Young Kidney Transplantee Got in the Ring with John Cena
Advocacy Despite being born with cysts in his kidneys, 7-year-old Kenneth “KJ” Harmon is just like other young boys his age; energetic, curious and hopelessly obsessed with televised wrestling.
There are currently 121,678 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the United States. Of these, 100,791 await kidney transplants.
“KJ was on dialysis for a little over a year,” Tasha recalls. “Dialysis was three times a week, three and a half hours at a time, so it took a chunk of time out of his daily routine and his school time. He was in kindergarten at the time, so he was only 5 years old while enduring that.”
Connecting donors to demand
The wait for a deceased donor could be 5 years, and in some states is closer to 10 years. Patients are prioritized by how long they've been on the waiting list, their blood type, immune system activity and other factors. Despite these bleak odds, doctors were able to find a compatible kidney for Kenneth.
“He was on the waiting list for a little over a year,” Tasha shares. But the road ahead is still far from certain. “KJ has to take medicine for the rest of his life, he can’t miss them. I’m not always going to be around.”
Recently, KJ was fortunate enough to take part in ESPN's "My Wish" series, in collaboration with the Make-A-Wish foundation, and was granted the rare chance to meet his hero, WWE star John Cena.
“He has always been into wresting. I’m not sure how he got into it or at what age, but he was young and just fell in love with it,” she remembers. “When they asked KJ what his wish was, I had a few ideas, like going on a cruise, but he was set on WWE.”
“Cena is one of Make-A-Wish's most altruistic donors, having granted 450 wishes and counting.”
Meeting a legend
Together KJ and Cena shared a few laughs and played the WWE 2K15 video game. “John was funny and as nice as I thought he’d be,” Tasha laughs. “And his championship belt was very heavy.”
The day concluded with front row seats to a WWE match where the wrestling giant called KJ up to the ring. KJ was met to the audience’s roaring applause.
Cena is one of Make-A-Wish's most altruistic donors, having granted 450 wishes and counting. “For me it’s not about the number of wishes, it’s about each individual experience,” John explains. “When you look into the eyes of a child who is smiling from ear-to-ear and hear them tell you they aren’t going to give up, you can’t put a value on that.”
Every day that passes, KJ grows stronger than the day before. But does he feel ready to take on Cena in the ring? “Hmm, not yet,” KJ taunts. “Give me 3 more years.”
“The amount of strength KJ has shown is extraordinary,” Cena comments. “He was able to come to the ring, be part of the show and hear a sold-out crowd cheer for him. It was incredible.”
In the field of medicine, transplantation is something truly triumphant — cheating death and restoring hope to millions of patients suffering from the failure of their kidneys, hearts, livers or lungs.
Cena continues, “Each wish experience is different and special for the individual child and their family, but one thing always remains the same: the impact the wish has on both the child and the wish granter.”
Tasha’s advice for families facing similar situations? “Find out as much as you can about the disease or the condition you child is in,” she urges. “I wish I had been more proactive and more informed about the state of KJ’s kidneys. Now I am always researching things. I think that would be the best thing to comfort parents — to know more about the process of what is going on.”
John has no plans to stop working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “I have faced some of the toughest superstars in WWE history and I’ve never encountered more bravery or toughness than I see in each wish kid that I meet,” he comments. “It is inspiring to see the impact that granting these wishes can have.”
“KJ has been amazing through this whole process,” Tasha shares. “He has been a trooper and hasn’t complained,” she shares. “His spirit is so bright and for everything he’s been through, it doesn’t affect his happiness.”