Those rooting for Nathan Saavedra are hopeful that the kidney he just received marks the beginning of a new Nathan.
That means growing faster, getting stronger and living a life without constant vomiting, dialysis and hospital visits.
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"I said 'Bye' to his dialysis machine last night," his mother, Tina, said Friday, eight days after his surgery. "As I disconnected him, I said, 'Hopefully I never have to see you again or connect you again.' And when you're doing that for over a year to keep him strong and his body strong, it's just something I had to say goodbye to."
Nathan, 3, of Carpentersville, suffers from prune-belly syndrome, an ailment that affects 1 in 14,000 births and affects the muscles in his urinary tract, resulting in a blockage of urine, which leads to kidney damage. As a result, he's been in and out of hospitals since birth and eats his meals through a feeding tube.
The transplant was viewed as a ticket to a normal life and took place June 21 at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. Things went quite smoothly.
"He's doing great," Dr. Amy Bobrowski said, adding that his progress is normal. "I mean, from the beginning, this kidney has worked perfectly. It's just been more an issue of blood pressure and fluid management since then. So overall, we're very happy with that."
After it turned out that several family members couldn't give a kidney to Nathan, his mother took her quest to the news media.
Her first search turned up Chris Doing of Carpentersville, who donated his kidney to Nathan in 2010. But several months later, the kidney had to be removed because it had twisted in Nathan's body.
Tina reached out again and this time Kalin Koychev, 33, of Wheeling, read about Nathan's plight in the Daily Herald and decided to give one of his kidneys to the boy, sight unseen. There was a 2 percent chance of finding a donor because Nathan had built up antibodies since his last transplant.
On Wednesday, Koychev and his wife, Sevda, finally met Nathan.
They paid a surprise, two-hour, emotional visit to the Saavedras before going next door for Koychev's post-surgery checkup at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
"We all cried," Koychev said.
Koychev, a father of two young sons, one the same age as Nathan, is also doing well.
"The only thing I feel is joy," Koychev said, when asked whether he's in pain.
Koychev was released from the hospital the day after surgery and returned to work six days later -- even though his employer, Montway Auto Transport, offered to pay him for as many days as he needed to recover.
"There is no reason for me to stay and do nothing at home when I can go to work and help people," said Koychev, who works as a coordinator for Montway, hails from Bulgaria and has repeatedly said God is using him to give Nathan a better life.
Thursday was a big day for Nathan, too, because doctors finally took him off the ventilator.
Post surgery, Nathan sustained a mild fever and experienced so much swelling that he had to be put on the ventilator for a week until the puffiness went down.
He remains in the intensive care unit on oxygen, but if all continues to go well, he could be home by the Fourth of July.
"It's definitely in reach, but we make no promises," Bobrowski said. "It's a day-to-day decision."
Koychev's selfless act, meanwhile, has inspired his employer.
In addition to donating $2,000 to Nathan's kidney fund, the company is also giving $1,000 to the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois.
Koychev has only worked there for about a month, but Mike Mikhailov, its chief executive officer, says his act touched everyone in the office and on the road.
"This is something that must be honored and appreciated -- that there are people out there like him trying to help other people and ... he doesn't even know that kid, that's rare," Mikhailov said. "We are supporting him, we're happy for him and we'll even be more happy if the kid grows with the kidney and leads a long and healthy life."
Nathan remains in the hospital while he's weaned off the oxygen and gets used to a full diet.
Once he gets home, he'll continue visiting the hospital two to three times a week for checkups and tests. As things go well, he can stretch the visits out to once a week.
"We like to keep close tabs on these kids immediately after transplant." Bobrowski said.
Within a year, Nathan will have one more surgery to shrink his belly and restore the abdominal muscles, his mother said.
Besides giving Nathan another chance at a normal life, Koychev's kidney also is giving the Saavedras and Koychevs an opportunity to forge a new friendship.
A play date with Koychev's sons Kaloyan, 5, and Konstantin, 3, is now in the works.
"I told him as soon as he's feeling good, we can get together," Tina Saavedra said.