After years of infertility and an adoption that fell through, Brenda and Ron Welhoefer were overjoyed when they officially adopted their son, Brayden.
But joy quickly turned to worry: At 3 months old, Brayden was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a rare disease of the liver and bile ducts. The only cure was a liver transplant, but Brayden was too small, and his doctors wanted him to grow bigger and stronger before undergoing surgery.
In the meantime, Brayden became sicker and sicker. At one point he was taking 12 different medications each day and he was hooked to a feeding tube around the clock. "You can imagine how a little baby would react to a tube sticking out of him," says Brenda. "He would pull it out in the middle of the night and we'd have to make a trip to the emergency room."
Brenda and Ron rarely left their Stoughton, Wisconsin home with Brayden because they didn't want him to catch any illnesses. Their neighbors came up with a childcare schedule so each of them could continue to work without needing to place Brayden in daycare.
Shortly after he turned 1, Brayden received the gift of life with a liver transplant at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison. But just a day later he developed fevers and his hepatic artery clotted. Despite doctors' attempts to open the artery, he needed another liver transplant. He went back on the wait list and 10 days later - on May 9, 2008 - he received his second liver. The caregivers at American Family were with the Welhoefers every step of the way. "They cared about us as parents as much as they cared about our child," says Brenda. "We were just taken care of. I can't say enough about that hospital."
Though Brayden experienced some complications after his second transplant (including a six-hour reconstructive surgery the day after), that liver was exactly what he needed. "After the transplant and recovery, it just seemed like he went from a sick, sick boy to one who couldn't stop smiling," says Brenda.
Now, Brayden is a seventh-grader who loves drawing, video games and behind-the-scenes documentaries. His parents say they wouldn't be surprised if he becomes a movie director or producer when he grows up. The family participates in the National Kidney Foundation's Capital City Run/Walk every summer, and last year, Brayden's best friend participated with them. "He's been through a lot, but we try not to limit what he does," says Brenda. "We're just so glad he's here with us."