Belly Button Kidney Transplant Saves Boy’s Life

LOS ANGELES – Daniel Alvarez is like many 9 year olds. He loves his toys, baseball, fun with his family and especially his mom and dad.

But for the past two years, life has not been easy for this little boy. Home has been, for the most part, Childrens Hospital. There his body was routinely pumped full of medicine.

He suffers from a disease called nephrotic syndrome and in July both his kidneys failed.

“It feels like not so good because my kidneys are not working, so I want them to work,” Daniel said.

“Kind of like your dream has shattered, because you feel like he’ll go to school, he’ll get married eventually and have kids and it’s kind of blurry now,” Daniel’s mother said.

Kept alive by dialysis, Daniel’s doctors said a kidney transplant was his only option. His father, Jesus, acted as the donor.

“I love him dearly… He lived through a lot. It’s just so hard for a parent to see him, to see a kid go through that, I just want to, I just want to help him,” Jesus said.

“I’m going to get my dad’s kidney so then I can hopefully I can play like the other kids. I love my mom… and I love my dad,” Daniel said.

The Alvarez family has suffered through a difficult two years, but a cutting edge surgery has given them a chance at a new beginning.

Daniel and his father are inseparable in life, but for the surgery, they had to be in separate operating rooms. Before the operation, they exchanged “I love yous.”

A USC surgeon, Dr. Inderbir Gill, removed Jesus’ kidney though his belly button, a procedure that Gill pioneered.

“The cutting edge aspect of the surgery is our ability to do major kidney surgery through the belly button,” Dr. Gill said. “If we can decrease cuts on the belly, then we can decrease the pain, the hurting and speed up the recovery.”

Instead of a large incision across much of the abdomen, Jesus’ naval was opened and a port put in place. Tiny cameras and instruments then guided doctors to the kidney, separate it and bring it out through the expanded belly button.

Minutes after the kidney was removed, it was rushed to the adjacent operating room, where Dr. Brian Hardy was waiting to do the transplant that would save Daniel’s life.

“It’s very rewarding, now that we have a chance to change the child’s life — change the whole family’s life,” Dr. Hardy said.

Both doctors hope this belly-button technique will make more people think about becoming donors. The surgery shortens recovery time on average from three months to one month.

“By doing the surgery in this manner, we are decreasing their downtime. We are returning them back to normal life and activity quickly,” Dr. Gill said.

For Jesus, who works as a bike courier, this means returning to work sooner. The financial strain from Daniel’s medical condition has not been easy. But minutes after surgery, he said he would not change a thing.

“I’d do anything, I’d do it again if I had to,” Jesus said.

But that hopefully won’t be necessary. Daniel’s transplant was a success.

“The kidney is working very well,” Dr. Hardy said.

From a farther to a son, two lives will be forever changed. Now Daniel has a chance to be a child again, grow up and live his dreams.

“I feel like I gave birth to him and now his father has in a way given him life again,” Daniel’s mother said.

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