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updated: 6/17/2017 6:01 PM

Constable: Life-saving kidney a gift from dad

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  • Video: A father's gift of life to son

  • Garrett Hummel always will have something in common with son Calvin. The 3-year-old's life was saved by a kidney donated by his dad. "I felt like it was just part of my job," Garrett says.

      Garrett Hummel always will have something in common with son Calvin. The 3-year-old's life was saved by a kidney donated by his dad. "I felt like it was just part of my job," Garrett says.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Father's Day takes on special significance for Garrett and Heidi Hummel of North Aurora. Calvin, 3, in his mom's arms, is alive because he received a kidney from his dad. Now, he's a big brother to Henry, 14 months old.

      Father's Day takes on special significance for Garrett and Heidi Hummel of North Aurora. Calvin, 3, in his mom's arms, is alive because he received a kidney from his dad. Now, he's a big brother to Henry, 14 months old.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • In the midst of coping with serious medical issues for Calvin, now 3, Garrett and Heidi Hummell said they made the choice to have Henry, now 14 months old, who was born less than two months after his older brother's successful kidney transplant.

      In the midst of coping with serious medical issues for Calvin, now 3, Garrett and Heidi Hummell said they made the choice to have Henry, now 14 months old, who was born less than two months after his older brother's successful kidney transplant.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 

Relatives can debate about whether Calvin Hummel has his mom's eyes or his grandpa's nose. But his kidney definitely came from his dad.

"It's a pretty amazing experience to say I saved a life," says Garrett Hummel, 32, of North Aurora, as he holds his active 3-year-old son in his lap. His wife and Calvin's mother, Heidi, is telling the story of how Garrett donated a kidney to their son, when Calvin explains the problem he had with his original kidneys.

"It got broke," Calvin says.

"So what did Daddy give you?" his mom asks.

"A new one," Calvin says.

Calvin was born on March 3, 2014, and Garrett and Heidi refer to their first 10 months of parenthood as "blissful ignorance." Heidi's parents, Katie and Ron Colliander, Garrett's parents, Marc and Nadine, and a host of uncles and aunts helped the new parents. Then Calvin got hit by a bad cold with flu-like symptoms.

Worried about dehydration, Heidi left her job teaching Spanish at Marquardt Middle School in Glendale Heights early on Jan. 22, 2015, and met her mother and Calvin in the emergency room at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

A nurse who previously had worked with transplant patients recognized the signs of kidney failure and put the three in an ambulance for the trip to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, where Garrett and his parents met them.

A week's worth of testing showed that Calvin had infantile nephrotic syndrome, a rare genetic mutation that typically leads to irreversible kidney failure by early childhood.

"It took me completely by surprise," says Garrett, who works as an assistant to the village administrator in Willowbrook.

"One of the first questions I asked was, 'Is he going to die?'" remembers Heidi, 30, who says doctors were encouraging but not able to make any guarantees.

"They sent us home with some different meds and told us to feed him as much as possible," Garrett remembers, explaining how Calvin had to weigh at least 22 pounds to undergo a transplant. At one point, he was up to 18 pounds, but he had a setback and his weight fell to 12 pounds. "I remember him trying to stand up and his legs wobbled," Garrett says.

Blood tests, "tuneups" and hospital stays became a part of life.

On Friday the 13th of March, 2015, Calvin was at Lurie Children's Hospital when doctors needed to perform an emergency procedure to fix a fluid overload. Complications kept him in the pediatric intensive care unit for a couple of weeks, but his kidney function had dropped from 60 percent to zero. On April 1, Calvin underwent 10 hours of surgery in which doctors removed both his kidneys, inserted a feeding tube and put him on a demanding schedule of dialysis treatments.

With Calvin as weak as a newborn, the one bright spot of his recovery is that "we got to watch him hit all his milestones again, only this time in fast-forward," Heidi says, remembering how he relearned to hold up his head, sit up, crawl and stand.

One day shy of a 10-week stay, Calvin got to go home and wait for his kidney transplant.

Working with the Children's Organ Transplant Association, a tax-deductible charity that helps transplant families avoid financial ruin, the Hummels' family and friends hosted fundraising events to help with all the out-of-pocket expenses. While insurance covers the bulk of transplant costs, COTA helps with other expenses ranging from deductibles and co-payments to hospital parking and cafeteria meals.

"We'll help more than 230 new families this year," says Rick Lofgren, president of COTA, which has helped 3,000 families in all 50 states throughout its 30-year history.

Given a leave of absence from teaching, Heidi drove Calvin into the city four times a week for three-hour dialysis treatments. In the meantime, Calvin coped with blood clots, infections and issues with his dialysis port and his feeding tube, and Garrett discovered he was a match to be the kidney donor.

On Feb. 1, 2016, Garrett had one of his kidneys removed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and doctors transplanted it into Calvin at Lurie Children's Hospital. The surgery went so well that Garrett was home the next day and Calvin came home after only eight days in the hospital.

Lethargic during his illness, Calvin became "like Popeye on spinach" after receiving his new kidney, his mom says.

The couple's second son, Henry, was born eight weeks later. Despite all the drama surrounding Calvin, Garrett and Heidi said they wanted to have kids close in age.

"The crazy medical time is temporary, but their age gap is permanent," Heidi says as the brothers play together in a living room filled with toys.

Calvin must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life and still has his feeding tube while he learns how to take in solid food.

"In that one- to two-year period where you're learning how to eat, he didn't learn that," his dad explains.

"If the kid wanted to eat 6 pounds of Skittles in a day, I'd let him," his mom admits with a chuckle.

Calvin should live a normal, healthy life, but his transplanted kidney isn't expected to last forever. Heidi says she could be a donor, and they joke about Henry's being available for "spare parts" after he turns 18.

"But my hope is that by the time he needs another kidney, artificial will be the way to go," Heidi says.

Garrett, who grew up in Hanover Park, met Heidi of West Chicago because he and Heidi's brother were Eagle Scouts together. Now the couple, who will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary next month, and their extended family are prepared for anything.

Garrett jokes about how his lifesaving kidney donation might give him the upper hand during the inevitable father-son conflicts in their future. For now, he's just a dad.

"They always say you'll do anything for your kids, and I feel like it was just part of my job," Garrett says about donating his kidney. "But that just might be my peak."

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