A kidney for Gabriel 

Ryan family reflects on journey to organ transplant  


GOODHUE, Minn. − April is National Donate Life Month which is a special time for Eric and Micayla Ryan’s son, Gabriel, who received a kidney transplant September 2021.
“He has this feistiness for life, he’s independent and really sweet,” Micayla said of their 2-year-old son.

[[In-content Ad]]

Eric agreed.
“For all the struggles that he’s been through, he’s maintained a very high level of happiness,” he said. “He smiled through a lot of struggles and has been very inspiring to us and to many people.”
Eric and Micayla farm with their children − Isaac, 7, Mabel, 6, Millie, 3, Gabriel, 2, and Luke, 3 days old − and Eric’s family. The family milks 200 cows and farms 350 acres of corn and alfalfa near Goodhue.
At Micayla’s 20-week ultrasound with Gabriel, the Ryans were told Gabriel had bilateral multicystic dysplastic kidney disorder.
“Both of his kidneys were very full of cysts,” Eric said. “The diagnosis was fatal. Best case scenario, we were going to hold him for a few hours if he survived pregnancy.”
In most cases, the baby passes away at 24 to 28 weeks gestation because there is no fluid to develop the lungs, Eric said.
“It was devastating,” Micayla said.
Eric agreed.
“People often asked me, ‘Why does God do this to good people?’ But the reality is, if God doesn’t allow bad things to happen, we’ll never fully realize how good life is,” he said. “So, we continued to remain hopeful, as there was just a tiny amount of fluid left.”
At 37 weeks, Micayla had a cesarean section to deliver Gabriel.
“We thought we might have a good chance of life seeing as there was fluid during the lung development stage,” Eric said. “But we didn’t know what to expect. We kept asking God for a miracle.”
On March 17, 2020, Gabriel was born. He spent 56 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. They placed a catheter for dialysis within a week because his kidneys were terminal. During surgery for the placement of the catheter, he developed an infection.
“There’s only like a 1% chance of infection, and it almost killed him,” Eric said.
Shortly after, they started dialysis to fight the infection, and Gabriel was on dialysis for the first five weeks of life. They then found that Gabriel’s kidneys could function well enough without dialysis, and his disease could be managed through his diet.
“For the first year, the ultimate goal was to get him to 10 kilos because we knew his kidneys would fail, it was just a matter of when,” Eric said.
They fed him through a nasogastric tube for the first few months and then fed him through a gastrostomy tube so they could manage his diet and get him ready for a kidney transplant.
“Gabriel really taught us how valuable it is to live one day,” Eric said.
Micayla agreed.
“During his first 18 months, it was just a lot of managing him daily,” she said. “Every day could have gone downhill or not. He was very volatile. When we had good weeks, good months, it was awesome. … We all worked really hard to keep food in him and trucked him back and forth to Mayo Clinic. He threw up and was dehydrated a lot.”
In January 2021, Eric registered for the Kidney for Life initiative program to try and donate his kidney to Gabriel.
“However, my kidney was 14 centimeters long, and the average kidney is like 10 centimeters,” Eric said. “So, we signed up for the donor program and looked for an adult female kidney which would fit better in a baby.”
On Sept. 15, 2021, Gabriel was given a transplant from a woman of North Carolina. Eric then donated his kidney to someone from North Dakota on the same day.
“The surgeon was happy to be able to have them on beds right next to each other so he could take the kidney out and place it right into Gabriel,” Eric said of the woman’s transplant to Gabriel.
After the transplant, Gabriel is on medications to resist rejection of the new kidney and is fed through a gastrostomy tube. But, he is starting to swallow and learn how to eat orally.
“You can tell food tastes better to him now, and he began walking within a few weeks of getting the kidney,” Eric said.
Micayla agreed.
“He’s happier and can get colds now and doesn’t get dehydrated like he used to,” she said.
On the farm, Eric does all of the feeding of the cows and calves, breeding and other herd management tasks.
“During Gabriel’s first two months of life, we had to change the time structure of everything,” Eric said. “We began milking at 3 a.m. and finished by 7 a.m. so we could get down to Rochester every day. That’s just really been a blessing, and we haven’t switched back because now I can see the kids get on the bus in the morning and in the evenings.”
The day before transplant surgery, 30 family and friends helped chop corn for silage and cover the pile.
“It was pretty cool, and they continued to feed us for three months afterward,” Eric said. “We are very grateful, thankful and appreciative of everything they have done for us.”
Through all of Gabriel’s treatments, the family found strength in their faith.
“We really began a search for a true relationship with God,” Eric said. “We changed our life to practice all moralities and truths of the Catholic Church, began a continuous study with Christianity and found Christ to come alive within us. As Fulton Sheen said, ‘Sometimes the only way into a man’s heart is to break it,’ and that’s what God needed to do with me.”
As the Ryans reflect on their journey as both donors and recipients, and especially during this month of awareness for organ donations, they are happy Gabriel received the transplant he needed, and Eric was able to help another in the process.
“Life, in general, is a lot more valuable when you are willing to give your time, energy and gifts away,” Eric said. “If you use it all for yourself, there’s not nearly as much joy.”  


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here