Twins receive lifesaving kidney transplants from parents at Packard Children's Hospital

- By Robert Dicks

Courtesy of the Graham family Stephanie and Al Graham holding their twins, Addie and Max

Stephanie and Al Graham hold their twins, Addie and Max. Each parent donated a kidney to one of the twins, who were born with a rare disorder.

Twins Addie and Max Graham will never have a birthday like this again.

When they surrounded themselves with family and cupcakes at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital for their second birthdays just before Christmas, they celebrated a whole lot more than just a new red wagon. They also received a gift of life that's wrapped forever in the love of their parents.

"We didn't think twice about donating a kidney to our kids," said mom and ninth-grade teacher Stephanie Graham of Houston, who gave one of her kidneys to Addie in a "live donor" transplant last May at Packard Children's and Stanford Hospital. Then, last month on Dec. 11, dad Al was in Palo Alto donating a kidney to son Max. "We were thrilled to discover we were a match and could save our babies' lives," Al said.

Addie and Max were born nine weeks premature to the first-time parents on Dec. 22, 2010, back home in Houston. But tests showed the babies had a deadly disorder called congenital nephrotic syndrome. This led to more than eight months in a Texas neonatal intensive care unit before the twins could go home. Additionally, both infants had hearing deficits and Max had cerebral palsy. Once finally home, the children had to endure kidney dialysis sessions of 14-20 hours a day.

In the meantime, there were endless surgeries and near-death moments. Both children desperately needed a kidney transplant, especially Addie. But unfortunately, most transplant centers have no experience transplanting kidneys in children weighing less than 33 pounds. Both Addie and Max were smaller than that. That's when the Grahams found the nephrology and kidney transplant team at Packard Children's, one of the country's top three in volume, outcomes and treatment. "We have exceptional experience and success transplanting smaller kids like Addie and Max," said Gerri James, RN, kidney transplant coordinator.

"Al and I were so relieved to find Packard Children's," Stephanie said.

On May 8, 2012, surgeon Waldo Concepcion, MD, performed double duty by removing one of Stephanie's kidneys at Stanford Hospital and then dashing over to Packard Children's to give Addie her mother's healthy kidney. Addie's health turned around drastically. "Afterward, Addie started walking for the first time ever," said Stephanie, who recovered from her own surgery quickly.

Then, last month, Al went through the same lifesaving drill. Amy Gallo, MD, led Al's surgery at Stanford Hospital, and Concepcion took the handoff of dad's kidney for Max's surgery at Packard Children's. Later, Addie jetted in from Texas with her grandparents so that everyone, including Al's parents from Australia, could be together for the twins' birthday at Packard Children's on Dec. 22. And yes, Santa stopped by on the 25th.

Stephanie and Al are thrilled that their children can now live, though challenges remain with both twins' hearing and Max's cerebral palsy. But both parents are educators, and what they've been through gives them more purpose than ever. As Stephanie wrote in her blog, Medicines, Madness and Miracles: "Perhaps because I am a teacher, I know I want to teach other people about Addie and Max. I want to educate people about children with disabilities, I want to advocate for my children and for others like them and above all else, I want to use my words and my story to show everyone how beautiful and amazing and strong Addie and Max are."

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2023 ISSUE 2

How the environment and health interact