STANFORD, Calif. -- “He’s talking up a storm, getting stronger every day, and getting ready to go home in the middle of May.”
Pediatric nephrologist Paul Grimm, MD, is talking about 4-year-old Julian Uceda-Valdez and his 4000 mile journey from Lima, Peru to Palo Alto for treatment of an extremely rare and deadly kidney disorder. On March 15 at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, Julian successfully received a living donor kidney transplant from his cousin Lourdes Valdez, a Northern California pediatrician. “It’s a blessing,” said mom Marita. “Such a gift, I just can’t believe it.”
The surgery was a loving and lifesaving moment for Julian, who says he’s now looking forward to the new Cars 2 movie and a couple dozen batches of mom’s brownies. He was born with congenital nephrotic syndrome, a deadly hereditary disorder that caused the tragic 2003 death of his brother at the age of two-and-a-half months. With transplant surgery not an option in Peru, parents Ricardo Uceda and Marita Valdez embarked on a global search for a top transplant center to save Julian’s life. That brought them to Packard Children’s, home to a kidney transplant program with one of the highest success rates in the world.
Julian with his parents, Ricardo and Marita, post-transplant
“Julian was so sick he couldn’t walk when we first saw him in 2010,” said Grimm. “His kidneys were leaking a ton of protein, and he was on the verge of needing dialysis. We came up with a plan to get him stabilized.” The goal of Grimm’s team was to give Julian time to get healthy enough to come back to Packard in 2011 for the transplant. “We were in regular consultation with the family and Julian’s doctors thousands of miles away,” said Gerri James, RN, transplant coordinator. “Prepping him for a successful surgery meant optimizing his nutrition and getting his failing kidneys out.”
In the meantime, money for the surgery was being raised through an amazing worldwide campaign called “Julian, be part of the miracle” with the help of a community of volunteers and charity events. The Children’s Organ Transplant Association, a national organization dedicated to guiding communities in raising funds for transplant-needy patients, led this global effort.
But wait a minute. Where would the transplant come from? Enter Marita’s first cousin “Auntie Lourdes,” a pediatrician who, in a remarkable but unsurprising sacrifice, decided that she would donate one of her kidneys to Julian. “When I learned that neither parent could be a donor, it just broke my heart,” said Lourdes, who was at Julian’s side in Peru when he was born, and was instrumental in helping diagnose his genetic condition and in connecting the family to Packard Children’s. One sleepless night, she turned to her husband, also a nephrologist, and said “I can be Julian’s donor.” “I just had this feeling that I was his best chance. I don’t know why, it just came from my heart.”
The 3-hour surgery on March 15 was performed by Waldo Concepcion, MD, Packard’s “ironman” of kidney transplant surgery who once led five transplants in two days. The kidney transplant team readied Julian in a Packard operating room while Lourdes was wheeled into surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. First, Concepcion removed one of Lourdes’ kidneys, which was then quickly whisked to Julian at Packard for transplantation.
Julian and his kidney donor, Dr. Lourdes Valdez
Now out of the hospital and staying with Bay Area family prior to returning home to Peru, Julian’s “recovering very well,” said Grimm. “He’s a very strong young man who should have a nice quality of life, though he’ll always need medications to help avoid transplant rejection.”
Friends and family in Peru can’t wait to have Julian home, where he’ll settle back into his beloved routine of solving puzzles and reading just about anything he can get his hands on. “We are incredibly grateful to Lourdes for her marvelous sacrifice, to the community for their donations, and to Packard Children’s for their exceptional care,” said Ricardo. “Julian has received the very best, and that’s why we are now able to take our little boy home. We are so, so thankful.”
1. Pioneering research from Packard Children’s has demonstrated that a kidney transplanted from an adult donor into an infant or small child has the greatest chance of success of any organ transplant in any age group.
About Stanford Children’s Health and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford
Stanford Children’s Health, with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at its core, is the largest Bay Area health care enterprise exclusively dedicated to children and expectant mothers. Long recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s best, we are a leader in world-class, nurturing care and extraordinary outcomes in every pediatric and obstetric specialty, with care ranging from the routine to rare, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. Together with our Stanford Medicine physicians, nurses, and staff, we can be accessed through partnerships, collaborations, outreach, specialty clinics and primary care practices at more than 45 locations in Northern California and 100 locations in the U.S. western region. As a non-profit, we are committed to supporting our community – from caring for uninsured or underinsured kids, homeless teens and pregnant moms, to helping re-establish school nurse positions in local schools. Learn more at stanfordchildrens.org and on our Healthier, Happy Lives blog. You can also discover how we are Building the Hospital of the Future. Join us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.