The Gift of Life - Twice

Ten years ago, Dylan Worthen became the youngest, smallest kidney transplant recipient ever at Cedars-Sinai. Today, he's a healthy tween, thanks to the dedication of his parents, Annette and Ron, and the visionary care he received at Cedars-Sinai.

When he was still in his mother's womb, the situation was very different. Ultrasounds revealed Dylan had multicystic dysplastic kidneys. Simply put, his kidneys had formed abnormally and were covered in cysts. According to their community doctor, the condition amounted to a death sentence.

Their refusal to give up hope led the Santa Clarita couple to the office of Andrew Freedman, MD, director of Pediatric Urology at Cedars-Sinai and vice chair of Pediatric Surgical Services. Things weren't quite as grim as they'd feared. Dr. Freedman told them about options that could save baby Dylan—including a kidney transplant.

Dylan was born at Cedars-Sinai and, for a year, his kidneys held up. When a transplant became inevitable, Ron and Annette insisted that one of them serve as the organ donor. Her smaller size meant the task fell to Annette, as her kidney would better fit into baby Dylan's abdominal cavity. Unfortunately, tests revealed another hurdle. The antibodies in Dylan's system would reject his mother's kidney. Nearly a third of patients suffering kidney failure have highly sensitized immune systems poised to attack a donor organ as though it were a harmful intruder, making them ineligible for transplants. Baby Dylan turned out to be among that one in three.

Cedars-Sinai had a solution. Stanley C. Jordan, MD and his team of researchers at the Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Center had developed an innovative process called intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) therapy. The therapy reduces the risk of rejection by adding antibodies to the patient’s bloodstream that offset the effects of the hyper-vigilant antibodies already in place. Unlike many other anti-rejection therapies, IVIG does not suppress the entire immune system; it works by boosting the patient’s protection against infection.

About 40 percent of the patients who come to Cedars-Sinai for a kidney transplant are highly sensitized. According to Dr. Jordan, between 95 percent and 97 percent can be successfully desensitized with IVIG. At 12 months old, Dylan became the youngest Cedars-Sinai patient to benefit from this remarkable new therapy.

When all was ready, J. Louis Cohen, MD, surgical director of the Kidney Transplant program, led the operation to place Annette’s kidney into her baby son. The procedure was a success. The combined efforts of the multidisciplinary expert team – which included pediatric nephrologists, urologists, dietitians, nurses, and surgeons – resulted in a healthy baby and a mother who recovered enough to care for him in her hospital room.

Dylan is now a typical, energy-filled tween. Although his transplant bars him from playing contact sports, he remains athletic, enjoying swimming, baseball, and volleyball. He also love his PlayStation and his username reveals his good humor about what he went through.

It’s “Kidneykid.”