2019 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Charlie Kuehl

Charlie Kuehl and his father at a playground


The first two years of any child’s life are a whirlwind for parents. But Jeff and Sarah Kuehl had an added challenge with their son, Charlie: His kidney functioned at only two percent when he was born at 35 weeks. Doctors drained his bladder, and his kidneys were able to work somewhat normally for eight months. But, before he was 1 year old, his parents knew he would eventually need a kidney transplant.


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UW Health Pediatric Transplant

Somehow, they made it through those difficult years — and today, Charlie is a healthy, active 3-year-old who likes to scare his parents with death-defying feats at the playground.


“The scarier it is for me, the more he likes it,” says Sarah. “He just loves to climb.”


While the Kuehls knew he would need a kidney transplant while he was still an infant, he was too young. So, they rearranged their busy work schedules so one of them was at his side at all times, and they meticulously managed his fluid intake and output. Their measurements needed to be precise, or he would run the danger of having a seizure or becoming comatose.


In the meantime, they underwent testing to see whether either of them could be his kidney donor. While both were matches, Jeff was a better match, so he was the natural choice.


“If you look at them, Charlie is Jeff’s little mini-me, so it makes perfect sense,” says Sarah.


The two underwent their surgeries on May 4, 2017. Now that he has a healthy kidney, Charlie has nearly caught up with other children his age in developmental milestones. He loves running and playing soccer and basketball. He has especially enjoyed trying new foods since his transplant. Charlie couldn’t have potassium when his kidneys were weak, but bananas are now his favorite food.


Jeff says it’s gratifying to see how Charlie has thrived with his kidney.


“When he was sick, we were doing everything we could, and we were still losing the battle,” he says. “It was nice to finally start winning.”


Read more stories from the 2019 transplant calendar