After waiting his whole life, 5-year-old Jazir Westerfield receives a life-saving kidney.
Cartoon characters danced across the TV screen as Jazir Westerfield slept on the living room couch.
“Don’t be fooled by this motionless mirage,” his mom, Tammy, says as her son lays on his back with his hands clasped over his belly.
Jazir, 5, had been up most of the day, delighting in his new stamina, climbing on furniture and frolicking in frenzy.
This is a new world for Jazir, who received a donated kidney at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital on June 13, a lucky day for this little boy who has battled kidney failure and been on dialysis all of his young life.
He still has to take anti-rejection and other medicines, but gone are daily dialysis treatments and a constant gnawing fear, waiting and wondering if a kidney would ever come.
“We got the call about three in the morning,” Tammy says. “I thought, ‘Who is calling me at three in the morning? That is so rude.’ I don’t even remember the actual conversation. All I heard was, ‘Do you accept the kidney?’ I was in tears.”
A young fighter
They arrived at the children’s hospital about half an hour later.
“They did a complete workup, and he was in surgery by 1 o’clock,” Tammy recalls. “It was crazy. It’s the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Born on January 28, 2011, Jazir spent the first four months of his life in the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit.
Yi Cai, MD, Jazir’s pediatric nephrologist with the children’s hospital, said he struggled with posterior urethral valve disorder, a membrane obstruction in his urethra that affects about 1 in 8,000 babies. Because he couldn’t urinate while growing in his mother’s uterus, his kidneys became severely damaged.
Doctors removed the first kidney when Jazir turned two years old and the second kidney last year.
Every evening, Jazir had to undergo peritoneal dialysis at his Grand Rapids, Michigan, home — right up until the night of the kidney transplant.
“I’ll take the ’round-the-clock meds we have now versus four hours of dialysis every night,” Tammy says. “He’s doing 10 times better. It’s wonderful, wonderful. I’m grateful.”
Dr. Cai says Jazir had a prolonged wait for a kidney match because of his blood type. But it was worth the wait.
“Already we see he is getting great energy, eating and playing well,” Dr. Cai says. “His story is a great example of teamwork, taking care of a patient with kidney failure since birth due to congenital damage.”
A childhood saved
Jazir received the kidney of a 42-year-old male who was taken off life support.
“I don’t know what happened to him,” Tammy explains. “All I know is he had a nice, big, healthy kidney. They had to extend his surgery to get it to fit into Jazir’s little belly. It’s working well. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.”
The new kidney makes Jazir act more like other boys his age. He’s active, has a lot of energy, has a big appetite, and he can now learn to use the urinal.
“Our main focus now is getting him where he needs to be education-wise, taking care of his new kidney, and enjoying our new life,” Tammy says. Jazir will start kindergarten in September at Stocking Elementary.
Jazir named his kidney “mac and cheese.” It’s a favorite of his, something he couldn’t eat before the transplant.
“He was on a strict diet before,” Tammy explains. “Now he’s like, ‘I can have whatever I want.’ He’s sprouting like a weed. I had to buy him all new clothes and he went from an 8 to a 10 shoe.”
Jazir plays with action figures, but no one would blink if he declared his real superhero the 42-year-old man who supplied a kidney and a new way of life for a little boy who waited so long.
“He climbs on everything now,” Tammy says. “Even though it’s hard for him to get back down, he climbs. He’s being the actual boy that he was born to be. As I sit back and watch, I just laugh and smile. He has a lot of making up to do.”
Tammy glances at her watch — almost time to head out to her gig as a volunteer for a charity basketball game.
She wakes up her little magic man by “this little piggy-ing” his toes. She puts a fresh diaper on Jazir, gets him dressed, and packs up a bag of meds.
“This is basically the story of our lives,” Tammy says, “carrying meds and taking care of the new kidney.”
A version of this story originally appeared on www.healthbeat.spectrumhealth.org on April 1, 2017.