The ultimate gift: COVID-19 nurse donates her kidney to Minnesota boy

Ellen Galles
Updated: October 06, 2020 11:14 PM
Created: September 29, 2020 04:35 PM

This is a story about giving, receiving and the kindness of strangers.

"It's an amazing ask, it's an amazing gift," said Brandon Hall, of St. Michael.

It's a story that centers around 18-month-old Bodie Hall. He was born with a condition called congenital nephrotic syndrome, which is a rare kidney disorder.

His parents knew early on he would need a kidney transplant but neither one could donate. Bodie's dad, Brandon, wasn't a blood-type match. His mom, Gloria, had already donated a kidney to Bodie's older sister, who had the same condition.

"This was outside of our control," said Brandon.

Bodie was put on a transplant list but his doctors also recommended taking to social media and using word of mouth to try and find a donor.

Enter Taylor Pikkarainen, who is a friend of a friend.

"It's definitely part of my calling, helping people," she said.

Pikkarainen is traveling nurse from Minnesota who was working with COVID-19 patients in New Jersey when she learned about Bodie.

"I filled out the paperwork right then and there," Pikkarainen said. "He was just so little."

Doctors at M Health Fairview determined that Taylor would be the best match for Bodie out of several possible kidney donors.  This was one of the first cases to use new, enhanced matching technology called "epitope mapping."

Dr. Raja Kandaswamy, director of the Transplant Unit at M Health Fairview, said this type of matching allows doctors to evaluate organs on a more detailed level to determine the strength of the match between a donor and recipient.

"We can get down to the molecular level and look for the molecular signatures that pose risk for rejection and if we can match at that level that gives you a higher degree of protection from rejection," he said.

The kidney transplant surgery took place on July 9, which just so happened to be Pikkarainen's birthday.

"It was a different birthday but a good one," she said.

And not just a birthday, but a day for the most generous of gifts.

"We couldn't believe she would do something like that for us," Brandon said.

"How do you even begin to thanks someone for giving you a gift like that," Gloria said.

"We are connected in some way but you can't see it from the outside," Pikkarainen said.

Bodie is taking anti-rejection medication but his doctors say the in-depth matching they did on the front end will hopefully improve his odds.  M Health Fairview is one of the only hospitals in the region using epitope mapping right now.


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