Erin Fitzgerald arrived two weeks early on June 28, 1996, a petite 5 pounds, 1 ounce and 18 inches long. Everything seemed to be fine, except for her poor appetite.
She began losing weight, and her doctors ordered all kinds of tests, which determined she had dysplastic kidneys. Her kidneys were not completely formed and had very little function. She was just two weeks old.
A nephrologist told Erin’s parents she would be on dialysis within six months. Her best hope for survival was a transplant, but for her tiny body to receive an adult kidney, she had to weigh 20 pounds. It was devastating news.
Erin’s parents worked diligently to fatten her up. They tucked a bottle in her mouth as she slept so her sucking reflex kicked in and she took in a few ounces. Weight gain was slow, so doctors recommended a feeding tube.
“We would feed through a tube in her stomach several times during the day, and a pump would run formula into her all night,” her mom, Jamie, recalls. “She did start to gain weight, but she was so sick all of the time. She threw up constantly. It was a struggle to keep the weight on.”
Erin’s parents were thrilled their daughter’s kidneys continued to function until fall 1997, but they realized a transplant deadline fast approached when her ongoing test results showed a decline in her health status. As desperation levels rose, Erin’s dad, Pat, was tested as a potential living kidney donor.
He was a match.
Although Erin weighed just 18 pounds at 18 months of age — two pounds under the target weight for a transplant — her doctors said the time was right. The transplant surgery was performed on Dec. 29, 1997, at Children’s Memorial Hospital of Illinois at OSF St. Francis Medial Center in Peoria, Ill.
Erin’s family rejoiced that the transplant was a success. Some complications arose, and Erin spent a month in the hospital. And more surgeries followed to repair a renal artery and two bowel obstructions. But she overcame all obstacles she encountered.
Since then, Erin has made the most of life, winning medals in four U.S. Transplant Games and enjoying soccer, basketball, softball and snowboarding. Now s a senior in high school, she works to promote organ donation as an Advocates for Hope volunteer with Gift of Hope and plans to attend college, thanks to the generous gift from her dad.