World Kindness Day started in 1998 and is aimed promoting large and small acts of kindness. The Shonkwiler family of John, Erin and Caleb Shonkwiler understands kindness as the Liberty family seeks a live donor for Caleb, who is in need of a kidney.
Erin said when she created a website and shared details of Caleb’s life and medical issues, people from all over began to offer words of kindness, support and hope. The family also created a Facebook page available by searching “Caleb Needs a Kidney.”
“We had a man post out of the blue that he hopes Caleb’s new kidney will last as long as his first one, which was 32 years,” Erin said. “The man said he just received his second kidney transplant.”
“I was really surprised that our Facebook post got so many responses. I’m thankful that people are so caring and reaching out,” Caleb said. “ I loved reading the comments from everyone. I’m grateful that people would even think about giving me a kidney. I’m a little nervous about getting a kidney transplant, but I’m looking forward to feeling better and getting back to normal.”
Caleb, who marks his 12th birthday this month, and his family know the needed transplant will not be his last. At his age, due to the expectancy of how long transplanted organs are projected to last, there may be multiple transplants needed in his future. Despite this, the family remains optimistic about Caleb’s prognosis.
“We know that medical treatments are seeing transplants last longer,” Erin said. A living donor kidney is estimated to last 15 to 20 years, which is longer than those from nonliving donors.
The Shonkwilers knew a donor situation would be part of Caleb’s life early on in the child’s life. Erin said an early ultrasound registered urine backing up in his kidneys. A pediatric nephrology specialist, Douglas Blowey at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, offered his medical expertise to the family.
During the first few months of Caleb’s life, a couple of surgeries were performed in hopes of slowing the serious medical issue.
“The reflux nephropathy means the waste the kidneys should be taking away doesn’t,” Erin said. “About a year ago, there was an uptick in some symptoms. In early March, we started the steps for the transplant process; then COVID hit.”
The family then met with the transplant team in July, in preparation of what is needed should a matching and willing donor be found.
Despite his medical condition, Caleb tries not to let much slow him down. The Heritage Middle School sixth-grader is active in Boy Scouts and family trips. He also loves to read, including all things “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings.”
“Caleb will have the full transplant work-up,” his mother explained. “We know a couple people have expressed interest in being a living donor. Right now, we don’t know who the people are.” Erin said Caleb’s teachers are part of the family support’s team as well.
The family is hopeful the right match will come along. Erin said the hope is to get Caleb a new kidney before he needs dialysis.
“It’s a God thing. It never ceases to amaze me when people want to help. Right now, we have great family support and great friends. Then there is the Liberty United Methodist Church family. We hope that people will keep our family in their prayers,” said the family matriarch.
If a living donor is found, Caleb’s transplant will take place at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, but the evaluation and surgery for the donor will occur in the University of Kansas Health System.
“We are thankful for all of the prayers and support during this time and (are) beyond grateful for anyone who would consider giving this amazing gift to our son,” John said.
While the family hopes a living donor will be in Caleb’s future, Erin also knows that there are thousands of others waiting for transplants as well.
According to the Kidney Transplant Learning Center, around 93,000 people need a kidney.
“We don’t think often of living donations, but living donors can offer a kidney, a lung, part of a liver, bone marrow,” Erin said. “We have had numerous people tell us they are a living donor. They want to share their resources with people considering living donation. It’s all been pretty amazing.”
To find out more about living organ donation and Caleb’s story, visit www.caleb-needs-a-kidney.com.