Family faces struggle together

Strong family support has brought Kolby Eiland to the brink of a new life. This summer he is slated to receive a kidney from his maternal aunt, Tammy Bennett, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. From left Tammy (aunt), Layton Bennett (cousin), Kolby, Kevin Eiland (father), Kinley Bennett (cousin), and Stephanie Eiland (mother).

A Wesley family – Kevin, Stephanie, and sons Steffin and Kolby Eiland – have faced medical challenges together all of Kolby’s 19 years of life. Kolby has been affected by renal disease since the age of 13 months and has seen the inside of way too many hospital rooms.

One family member, Stephanie’s sister Tammy Bennett, is scheduled to donate a kidney to Kolby this summer. She has watched Kolby over the years as he faced medical procedures that would be daunting to any adult.

“He’s my hero,” she said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the right thing to do.”

Kolby Dalton Eiland was born March 23, 2000, and by 13 months he was hospitalized for pneumonia and a range of other symptoms that were eventually traced to malfunctioning kidneys.

By 3, he was under the care of doctors at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and becoming increasingly familiar with hospital routines and an array of drugs like diuretics, steroids, and blood pressure medicine.

By the end of 2003, the doctor’s at Children’s had diagnosed Kolby with FSGS and had scheduled removal of both kidneys. Focal Segmental Glomerulo Sclerosis is a rare condition that, in children, is seen mostly in boys between 2 to 3 years of age. It is a disease that scars the glomeruli, tiny filtering units, inside the kidney. Scarred glomeruli cannot be repaired, so kidney function declines as the disease progresses.

Before his diagnosis, Kolby had already accepted a feeding unit into his life to receive nutrients and fluids. He even named it Charlie. Then doctors added another process, peritoneal dialysis, to his regime.

This tube machine, designed to substitute for the kidneys, wasn’t mobile and it kept Kolby in bed from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. every day. Kolby named this one Chuck. Charlie and Chuck were a part of Kobly’s young life every day while the family waited more than a year for a suitable kidney from the donor list.

During that time, hopes rose when a donor was found in summer 2004 and surgery was scheduled for November that year. The family traveled to Little Rock to start pre-surgery procedures. But bad news followed when doctors discovered the donor’s kidney had some anomalies and could not be used.

These ups and downs would challenge any family, any child. But, Stephanie said, “He was the one who kept us going. He stayed real positive. We were all upset,” she said, “and Kolby just kept saying, ‘It’s going to be OK, it’s going to be OK.’ He said he trusted in God’s will, and so Kolby made the rest of the family feel that it would be OK.”

His name went back on the transplant list.

On Feb. 3, 2005, after 14 months of waiting and a little before Kolby’s fifth birthday, he received his first kidney transplant from a 22-year-old man, Rick Allan Peterson, who had died of heart failure.

Rick’s kidney neither died nor worked for about eight weeks. It was asleep, doctors said. Kolby’s fifth birthday came and went until, at last, at the end of March 2005 it began to “wake up.” Kolby got to start school in fall 2005 without tubes.

That was a long trip for a little boy. But with this family’s determination and the professionals at Children’s Hospital, especially, said Stephanie, Dr. Richard Blaszak, Kolby has had many good years. Rick’s gift as a donor saved Kolby’s life.

After Kolby’s 18th birthday, Arkansas Children’s could no longer serve him, so when the family saw that his kidney function numbers were declining in 2019, they decided to seek help at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Mayo recommended another transplant.

The family learned that the average wait-time was between six and 10 years. Neither Kevin nor Stephanie can be donors in this case. That’s when Stephanie’s sister Tammy decided to give one of her kidneys to Kolby, if it was possible.

Tammy was in Rochester with another family member when she made that decision and called Mayo to get the evaluations started. Her presence there sped things up because the day after she called, she was in the Mayo Clinic for testing.

Tammy was a match.

“I just knew this donation would work,” she said.

People often assume transplanted organs come from the recently deceased, but living-donor transplants are not only possible, but better. A kidney from a recently deceased person usually lasts an average of 10 years; living-donor kidneys last 15 or more years on average.

Only healthy people are accepted for living kidney donations, and a National Institutes of Health study reports that these donors live longer than the general population. Tammy was evaluated extensively at Mayo by her living-donor team and is confident that she has made the right decision.

“I think Kolby’s story will raise awareness about the option of living-donor donations,” Tammy said. “If his story inspires one person to help, it could save someone’s life.”

Kolby will continue to encounter medical challenges, but he faces his situation in life with maturity, and he carries on with grace. He graduated from Elkins High School in 2018 and attended Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale for a year and a half. He started working at Chevrolet of Fayetteville in May 2019.

“So many other kids have zero appreciation for the things they have,” said Mike Peak, Kolby’s supervisor at the dealership. “Kolby is refreshing. He’s very well liked here and has a great outlook on life. He’s an outstanding young man.”

Tammy’s hope for increased participation in donor programs of all kinds can happen. One way is to mark yourself as a donor when you get or renew your Arkansas driver’s license. Sixty-two percent of Arkansans have already done that.

The nonprofit Arkansas Regional Organ Recovery (ARORA) reports that more than 114,500 people nationwide need an organ transplant today, nearly 96,000 need kidneys. Twenty people die each day in the U.S. waiting for an organ, and eight lives are saved through each donor.

Arkansas has the third highest number of donors registered through its drivers’ license program. More participants in both living-donor and  recently deceased donor programs are needed.

They help real people, like Kolby.

As the nonprofit accredited organ procurement organization for Arkansas, ARORA works with hundreds of partners throughout the state – hospitals, medical professionals, law enforcement agencies, coroners and the Arkansas Medical Examiner – to maximize each opportunity for organ and tissue donation.

Through the miracles of modern medical science, thousands of people’s lives are changed by this work every year.

Visit www.arora.org or call (501) 907-9150.

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