Published April 02. 2001 4:00AM Updated December 28. 2009 10:45PM
Until March 7, 11-year-old Zachary Abbett's morning routine consisted of waking up thirsty, having a drink and then vomiting. Sometimes he would throw up after lunch. He vomited so much that the stomach acid scarred his larynx.
But since Hartford Hospital surgeons implanted the kidney donated by Tia DeWick in him earlier this month, he's been eating pancakes slathered with margarine and syrup every morning and not getting sick. His mother, Laura, said that one day he even ate a turkey grinder for lunch “two bites at a time.”
The ability to hold down his food is one of the most visible signs that the March 7 kidney transplant has been a success for Zachary. He's doing so well that he's expected to return to school today.
“He's doing extremely well. I'm very pleased with his condition. He really looks like a healthy guy,” said Dr. Majid Rasoulpour, Zachary's pediatric nephrologist at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center.
While Zachary returns to Mystic Middle School today, an antsy DeWick convinced surgeons to let her return to her job at Frederick's of Hollywood in the Crystal Mall on a part-time basis this week.
DeWick, 24, said she is feeling better each day but still has trouble picking up certain things or lying on her stomach to read.
“It almost feels like it didn't happen. When you sit there you can't tell you have one kidney. It doesn't feel any different. But sometimes I think, 'Oh my God. I only have one kidney,' ” DeWick said.
DeWick of Montville had read that Zachary's kidneys were failing in The Day last fall and offered to give him one of hers, even though she had never met the boy. Without DeWick's kidney, doctors said Zachary would have started dialysis and been put on a waiting list for a kidney, a wait that could have taken several years.
With DeWick and Zachary in adjoining operating rooms on March 7, surgeons used a new procedure designed to substantially reduce DeWick's recovery time to harvest her kidney. They carried it next door where they implanted it in Zachary's lower right abdomen. The kidney began working immediately to cleanse his blood.
The first few days after surgery were a little rough for Zachary. The morphine being used to dull the pain from the 10-inch incision made him nauseous and he began throwing up blood from torn tissue in his throat. Once his medication was changed, the vomiting stopped. He went home March 14, a week after surgery.
During his first week home he returned to the Connecticut Children Medical Center four times for checkups with Rasoulpour. On one of those visits he had 30 staples removed and underwent an eight-hour intravenous treatment to prevent his body from rejecting the kidney and boosting his immune system. The frequency of doctors visits will diminish in the coming months and the intravenous treatments will end.
But he will still have to take five to six kinds of medications each day for the rest of his life. Now he's taking 21 pills a day, which the Abbetts keep in a blue box divided into the days of the week and times of the day. The Abbetts also have posted a sign on their door warning visitors that Zachary cannot have any contact with sick people or those who have been exposed to any illness because he is susceptible to infection.
Dr. Rasoulpour said Zachary will also have to refrain from eating high-salt and high-fat foods as well as watch his weight and blood pressure. Doctors would also like him to not participate in contact sports because his kidney could be injured in a fall.
An energetic Zachary says he's feeling fine.
“When I wake up I'm not thirsty anymore. I don't itch anymore and I can eat,” he said.
Laura Abbett said the fact Zachary can keep his food down now would mean he'd go to school happier and be able to learn better.
“Now that it's all over I just feel like I can breath again. The weight, all the worry is off my shoulders. Zach looks at me now and says, 'Mommy you were right. I feel better every day.' ”
As for DeWick, Laura Abbett said she should get some kind of award.
“She's been giving without asking for anything in return,” she said.
Laura Abbett said she also wants to thank the many people in the community who have supported her family financially and emotionally.
“I don't know how we could have managed without their help,” she said.
DeWick also struggled with her initial recovery. She didn't like the spacey feeling of the painkillers and wanted to go home. On the day she was scheduled to be discharged from the hospital, the pain medication made her so nauseous she had to stay another day. She finally went home March 12, two days before Zachary.
She said the three-inch incision where doctors removed her kidney and two smaller incisions have healed but she is still sore. She said she has also had trouble regaining her old eating habits.
Despite the problems, she said the surgery was “no big deal.”
She spent the past week shopping and eating out with her 3-year-old daughter after surgeons said she could leave her home and drive.
Before she left the hospital she went to see Zachary. While she's happy to see him feeling better, she said she does not feel any spiritual connection to him, partly because of their age difference and the fact they really do not know each other.
“I don't feel like I'm in him or anything weird like that,” she said.
She said, though, that she has become close friends with Laura Abbett.
DeWick said that she doesn't understand why other healthy people who have two kidneys would not want to donate one.
“If people could realize how simple it is they would definitely do it,” she said. “I can't believe people wouldn't want to do this.”
DeWick said that more than 100 people sent her donations to help pay her bills while she was out of work, although she was reluctant to give a figure. Her medical bills were covered by the Abbetts' insurance. She said the donations not only allowed her to pay bills but do some things last week with her daughter she normally cannot afford. She said she would donate the rest of the money to a fund to help the Abbetts.
With her son on the road to recovery, Laura Abbett recalled the series of medical and development problems that have plagued her son since birth.
“He's always been so special to us. He's survived so many things in his life so far and could have been taken away so easily,” he said. “I think God has kept him here for a special purpose.”