A father’s gift
by Staff Writer
by Katie Orlando
Keira Messmer might not have been ready to be born at 28 weeks, but she hasn’t been ready to give up in the 2 and 1/2 years since, either. Keira and her parents are finally sleeping through the night, a few months after her father gave her a kidney, allowing her to survive without the 14 hours a day of dialysis she used to need.
Kelly Messmer had an emergency cesarean section after 28 weeks of pregnancy and a diagnosis of preeclampsia, and gave birth to 1 pound 13 ounce Keira on June 8, 2009. She was tiny, but average for a 28-week baby, her father, Matthew Messmer, said. She was immediately admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit at Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte.
“Within a few weeks of her being there (in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), her belly started getting really swollen, and she started going down hill really quickly,” Matthew Messmer said.
Doctors had been feeding Keira intravenously, and the line eroded inside of her. By the time they caught the problem, the nutrition build up in her abdomen made up about half her body weight, and they had to drain the fluids.
“When they did, she just crashed. Her blood pressure went to like zero,” Messmer said.
“They tied to give her fluids as quickly as they could to compensate,” Messmer said.
But the trauma caused her kidneys to shut down and she was too small for dialysis.
It didn’t seem like she would survive.
“We’d look at her, and she’s smiling, I don’t know about smiling, but looking back at us, and it just doesn’t look like she’s going to go away,” Messmer said.
The doctors were able to compensate somewhat for her lack of kidney function through nutrition, but then they found out the damage was more extensive than they originally thought.
When Keira’s blood pressure dropped, her brain didn’t get the blood it needed, causing permanent brain damage.
“They basically told us that she was going to be a vegetable. She wasn’t going to be able to move, eat, talk, walk, do anything,” Messmer said.
The Messmer family took it day-by-day, visiting Keira and having her baptized in the hospital.
By September, doctors realized that it looked like Keira was going to survive. At 3 and 1/2 months old, she was big enough for peritoneal dialysis, a process in which a dialysis solution fills the abdomen through a catheter, absorbs waste and is drained.
“It’s not as good as a kidney, but it kind of does enough where you sustain life,” Messmer said.
But it made Keira’s life less comfortable. She couldn’t keep down food from a bottle anymore and wasn’t getting enough nutrition. She had a procedure to prevent her from coughing up food, helping her to gain weight and strength.
“At that point, we were sick of going to the hospital,” Messmer said. They were able to bring Keira home before Christmas, after her first 197 days of her life in intensive care.
Keira spent 14 hours every night hooked up to a dialysis machine.
“She was miserable,” Mesmmer said.
She was hospitalized twice after hyperventilating and was not sleeping more than 10 minutes at a time.
Around her first birthday, Keira’s dialysis catheter stopped working, and doctors had to perform surgery to insert a new one. When they tried to use the new catheter right away, it got contaminated giving Keira peritonitis, prohibiting dialysis for four to five weeks.
“They were telling us that she’s not going to survive without using the catheter, and since they can’t use the catheter, they said the only option we’ve got is to put in a hemocatheter line. But she was just miserable, and we didn’t want to put her through another surgery,” Messmer said.
With her special needs, Keira doesn’t do well on breathing tubes. She spent the next month and a half in the hospital on a very limited diet and made it through the peritonitis.
Beginning last winter, Keira was approaching the size requirements for a kidney transplant. The Messmers went through the evaluation process with Carolinas Medical Center, but the surgeon they met with didn’t feel comfortable performing the transplant for up to another year.
The family was undeterred. Kiera was going to get a kidney.
Messmer knew he was the same blood type as his daughter and healthy enough to donate.
“We knew that it would give her a better quality of life, and that was the only way,” Kelly Messmer said. “So we decided to seek a second opinion at Wake Forest.”
Kelly’s mom, Diann Holand, helped them connect with Dr. Alan Farney at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital. He spent two hours with the family and agreed to perform the transplant even sooner than they expected.
The Messmers thought about looking for a donor, but Matthew Messmer wanted to give his kidney to his daughter.
“If there’s something I can do for her, with all the things she’s already been through … I really wanted to do it,” Messmer said.
Matthew Messmer did his research before the surgery and learned that after donating a kidney, the remaining kidney grows and compensates.
Keira spent a month recovering in the hospital after the Sept. 20 surgery and has been off dialysis since. She takes three anti-rejection medications and antibiotics and does occupational, physical and speech therapy every week. But she’s made major strides since the surgery.
“Keira’s just so much happier. She’s starting to grow more and she’s getting stronger,” Kelly Messmer said.
At 2-and-a-half years old, Keira is at the development level of a 4 to 5 month old.
“She really can’t see but shadows. She hears very well. She makes noises, but she’s not talking. She can move all her legs and arms, but she’s got control issues,” Matthew Messmer said.
Without dialysis treatments, the Messmers have greater hope for her development.
“The fact that she has a kidney now, and her body is finally processing things normally, at least gives her a chance,” Matthew Messmer said. “Dialysis isn’t life.”
Keira’s older brother, Cole, probably knows more about medicine than any other 6-year-old at Torrence Creek Elementary.
“He loves his sister,” Matthew Messmer said. “He calls her his ‘chubby.’ He gives her lots of kisses, but it’s affected him quite a bit.”
Cole knows all about dialysis and carried the supplies upstairs for his sister’s nightly treatments. But, for now, he won’t have to see anyone in the hospital.
“Our plan is to stay away from the hospital as long as possible,” Matthew Messmer said.
Donated kidneys last around 15 years, so Keira may eventually need another transplant.
“The good thing is that gets her to 17 and a half. She’s going to be a lot bigger and older and hopefully a lot more developed,” Matthew Messmer said. “We can deal with that when it comes.”