Matthew Ouimet looks like your typical toddler, but he has not had a typical toddler’s life. He was born with a rare genetic disorder called Primary Hyperoxaluria (PH) Type 1, a liver condition that affects other organs, like the kidneys. At just five months old in July of 2011, little Matthew was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure and his parents were told he would not only need a kidney transplant, but a liver transplant as well to cure the PH.
While the Ouimets waited for a kidney and a liver, they began a routine of nearly round-the-clock dialysis to filter toxins out of his blood to keep him alive. Six days a week, Matthew received dialysis treatments at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Each morning before dawn, Matthew’s mom, Kristi, woke him up and, joined by her mother, father or husband Kelly (Matthew’s father), drove to the hospital from their home in Antioch, about a 50-mile trip. Four to six hours later, the trio returned home where Kristi would give Matthew medications every hour for several hours, prepare his medications for the next day, put him to bed, and hook him up to another machine for overnight dialysis.
While Kristi focused on Matthew and his treatments, Kelly, an Antioch police officer, and Kristi’s parents largely took care of the daily needs of the older Ouimet children, Molly and Patrick. They accepted that Matthew required extra attention and special care because they are all in the PH fight together – Kristi and Kelly are both carriers, and like Matthew, Molly was born with it, causing countless kidney stones in her young life.
As Matthew’s condition worsened, the Ouimets got two calls that a possible donor had been found. Both times though, surgery was called off because tests showed Matthew’s body would reject the organs.
“I realized then that Matthew had a perfect donor somewhere and they just weren’t done living their life yet,” says Kristi. “I started praying hard every day that whoever our hero was that they were living life to the fullest. I hoped they had a family who was loving them and making memories and truly happy because I knew…their whole lives were going to be torn apart and never the same…I know that life is a part of death and this is all a cycle, but I just didn’t wish for it. I never wished for someone to die so my son and others could live.”
Matthew’s hero came in June of 2013; a 22-year old man got into a car accident and didn’t survive. But, he had registered to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. And he was a match for Matthew. The Ouimets have since learned Matthew’s donor, Brandon Burnett, served in the U.S. Army, and he didn’t just save Matthew with his gifts of life, he saved four others too.
While Matthew’s suffered some setbacks since his liver and kidney transplant, he continues to get better and is stronger than ever, and so are the Ouimets. They’ve even met Brandon’s mother, Maggie Kolb of Woodland, and consider her a part of their family.
“It has been so amazing to see Matthew’s progress and know that it is because of Brandon,” says Maggie. “He has grown from being a toddler to a little boy since the transplant. Being a donor or donating a loved one’s organs is the greatest gift you can give. Beyond the sadness and heartache, there is joy in knowing you can give someone a second chance at life.”
As for Matthew, when he sees a picture of Brandon, he says, “That’s Brandon. He is my hero. He saved my life. He gave me a kidney and liver.”More Stories