BIRCH BAY - When 6-year-old Rishi Nair traded nightly dialysis treatments for his mother's kidney last year, he also traded stroller walks for bike rides, long naps for extended karate lessons and a dry spot on the side of hotel pools for swimming with his siblings.
Mary Lyn Nair knew her son's life would change after she donated her kidney to him last spring, but she had no idea he would blossom like this.
"I didn't think the transplant would change him so much," Mary Lyn said. "He was always a happy person."
But the transplant has boosted the boy's energy, appetite and even his concentration. Before the surgery, he used to struggle for words. Now, he's a young chatterbox who peppers his family with plans to install a spa on the family's deck (he couldn't go swimming before the surgery for fear of getting an infection through his dialysis tube in his abdomen) and to become a kidney doctor when he grows up.
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"The reality is, he's never really felt good" before the surgery, Mary Lyn said. The boy had been in kidney failure since birth and did nightly dialysis for several years to filter toxins from his blood.
But even with dialysis, Rishi faced other health problems such as anemia and rickets. His appetite wasn't great enough to get his body enough nutrients, so he received the rest of what he needed through a tube to his stomach. His growth was slowed, too, so he got shots to stimulate that.
No more, said Mary Lyn.
She and her husband, Mahen, have always known that a kidney transplant wouldn't remove all their son's health concerns, just replace them with new ones. There's always a chance Rishi's body could reject the new kidney. He'll have to take drugs the rest of his life that put him at risk for other illnesses. And in 15 to 30 years, he may need to get another transplant.
Common colds that come and go in the family seem to linger with Rishi. He's been battling some sort of bug for three weeks that zaps his energy by late in the day.
For now, though, life is good, Mary Lyn said. The family is launching another year of homeschooling for Rishi and his three older siblings, sister Shanti and brothers Kamal and Nirmal, who spent much of last year in India while their mother and brother prepared for and recovered from surgery.
And Mary Lyn has been recovering, too. She said the first month after the donation she lived on a burst of energy, seeing her kidney start working in her son.
Then, she said, she felt a drop.
"It seemed like a grief," she said, "like the body understood something was lost."
She still thinks she doesn't have as much energy as she did before the surgery, though doctors say the absence of one kidney shouldn't affect the energy of a healthy person. But Mary Lyn said she doesn't mind.
She feels a deep contentment that she didn't have before and doesn't mind that life is a little slower.
"Life is so much more free than it was before," she said. "It's given me time to just be."