In the fall, Blake Burdorf will start preschool.
It’s a typical milestone for 3-year-olds.
For Blake, however, it’s extraordinary. It means that for the first time, Blake is healthy enough to do all the things his twin brother, Bowen, does.
Blake, who was treated for kidney failure the day after he was born, received a kidney transplant Nov. 5.
A complete stranger decided to give him one of her kidneys.
“It’s about doing something for another person,” says donor Steph Stoll. “We’re here ... to love others. That’s it. That’s the bottom line.”
Stoll was inspired to donate a kidney by an acquaintance’s Facebook post about her son, Teddy, needing a kidney. After a lot of research and prayer, Stoll went through testing to see whether she was a match and eligible to donate.
Teddy ended up receiving a kidney from another donor, but Stoll decided she still wanted to give.
“I felt God wanted me to do this,” she says. “We’re supposed to do more for others than for ourselves. Some people choose adoption, or foster care, or they go on mission trips. This was something I felt I could do within my life and my family.”
Blake needed a kidney from a living donor — instead of one from a deceased donor — because he had to have reconstructive surgery on his bladder at the same time as the transplant. That procedure made the transplant surgery more complicated, his father Aaron Burdorf says.
The Burdorfs knew before Blake was born that he would have health complications.
An ultrasound while she was pregnant revealed that one of the twins Jamie Burdorf was carrying had enlarged kidneys. He had posterior urethral valves — extra flaps of tissue — growing in his urethra, damaging his bladder, urinary tract and kidneys.
Doctors estimated that he had less than a 10 percent chance of survival after birth.
A procedure in utero to correct the issue could have jeopardized the life of both babies, so the Burdorfs decided not to intervene. After he was born, Blake spent the first 70 days of his life at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. He had surgery to put in a catheter for dialysis and a tube for nutrition.
For the next two and a half years, Blake had daily in-home peritoneal dialysis done by his parents. The fluid exchange treatment took about 10 hours every night while he slept.
Blake wasn’t in immediate danger of dying from his condition, but there was a constant risk his body would start rejecting the dialysis, or that the permanent catheter tube would lead to infection. Also, the less time he spent on dialysis, the longer his donated kidney would last.
Depending on a number of factors, a donated kidney lasts an average of 10 to 15 years.
His parents know he might need another transplant, but for now they’re focusing on the positive.
“Hopefully, that’s way down the road,” Burdorf says. “It’s not something we really think about. We just let him be a kid.”
Before the surgery his family — in addition to twin brother, Bowen, Blake has a sister, Jenna, 8, and brother Brody, 6 — made numerous trips from their home in State Center to Iowa City for hospital visits. Finally, when Blake turned 2, he was big enough to begin the search for a donor.
Finding a match was just the first step. Once a match was found, potential donors were screened for health issues that might disqualify them from the procedure. That’s what stopped Aaron Burdorf from giving his son a kidney. He had high blood pressure.
Stoll came into their lives when she saw Blake’s story on Facebook. She connected with his family and then it was just a matter of determining if they were a match.
It’s been about eight months since the surgery.
Blake came home from the hospital in March after fighting off a post-surgery infection.
For him, the next step is learning how to eat solid food. Because he was on daily dialysis and a feeding tube, he never learned to swallow. So he’s starting slowly, with soft foods like ice cream. Other than that, his dad says, you wouldn’t know he had any health problems unless he showed you his scar.
“If it weren’t for Steph, Blake’s life would be really completely different right now,” Burdorf says. “He can grow and develop and do these things other little kids get to do.”
Stoll, 34, who moved to Iowa City from rural Tipton, says it took about six months before she felt back to normal after the surgery.
A stay-at-home mom who home-schools her two children, ages 9 and 5, she says her family’s support was vital to making the donation a success. Her husband, Isaac Stoll, stayed home from work for a week to care for her while she was recuperating.
Though she still has some numbness on her stomach due to nerve damage, she’s back to running 5Ks. In April, she and the Burdorfs met for a short reunion at a 5K run in North Liberty for the My Angel Foundation, which promotes organ donation.
It was their second time meeting at a run.
In August 2013, just before the surgery, Steph met Blake for the first time.
He was waiting when she crossed the finish line. Since that moment, the two families have become intertwined in each other’s lives, visiting when they can.
“I can’t talk about it without crying,” Stoll says. “To see him running around and playing with my kids and living a normal life — it’s something I will hold forever. If I had another kidney to give, I would do it again.”
Stoll says even if people aren’t ready to give a kidney, she wants them to be more aware of the need for donors, Another donation that kept Blake alive was blood.
And more kidney donations from deceased donors would make living donors less necessary.
“Not everybody can donate a kidney,” she says. “But everyone can sign the donor card and pretty much everyone can donate blood.”
Support organ donation
•What: Compassion for Awareness, Remembrance and Education 5K Run and Walk
•When: 8 am. Aug. 23
•Where: North Liberty Community Center, 520 West Cherry St., North Liberty
•More information: http://myangelfoundation.org/