Pediatric kidney transplant

Mom gives baby her own kidney to save his life

Kym Pfister holding her 2-year-old-son, Gus, in front of a tree trunk

Kym Pfister carried her son, Gus, for 35 weeks before he was born. Now, the 2-year-old carries a piece of his mom inside him—her kidney, which she donated to him when he was 15 months old.

She says now she wishes she had another kidney to give, now that she can see just how much of a difference it has made for him.

Kym and her husband, Jonathan, learned at her 20-week ultrasound that something wasn’t right—doctors thought his bladder might have ruptured because there was fluid from his bladder in his abdomen. At 27 weeks’ gestation, Kym lost all her amniotic fluid, and at 32 weeks, doctors confirmed Gus had no kidney function. “I was cautiously optimistic,” Kym says now. “I tried to remain positive that maybe the doctors were wrong, and we were going to live happily ever after.”

When Gus was born in October 2018, doctors at his hospital immediately hooked him up to a ventilator so he could breathe, but at first, he was too sick even to be transferred to American Family Children’s Hospital for expert care. Then, at 4 days old, he was well enough to move hospitals, and at 20 days old, he started dialysis 24 hours a day to remove the toxins from his blood. “The first two or three weeks were terrible,” says Kym. “I cried all the time.”

Gus stayed at American Family Children’s Hospital for three months, then joined his three big brothers at home. He responded well to dialysis, and the Pfister family developed a routine for giving him the 12 hours of dialysis he needed every day. But they knew that was only a temporary measure. Gus needed a kidney transplant at American Family Children’s Hospital, and Kym was a match. So, they waited until he was old enough to be able to handle such a big surgery.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic disrupted their grand plan for a transplant in the spring of 2020. During the first couple of months of the worldwide pandemic, the UW Health Transplant Program was forced to delay every non-emergency surgery. “We were devastated,” Kym says. “On the other hand, he did so well on dialysis that we weren’t worried he wasn’t going to make it to transplant.”

On June 11, 2020, Kym and Gus both were wheeled into surgery. When they came out, both had one healthy kidney in their abdomen—and Kym was a living donor hero.

These days, she describes him as the “happiest, most laid-back kid ever.” Gus has made tremendous strides since his transplant, and his parents are hopeful that having a healthy kidney will give him a bright future.

“If I could give every single person a piece of me right now, I would,” Kym says. “Everyone should get a good chance at a quality life.”