Stranger donates kidney to save boy’s life
By Julie Mullen For The Courier-News November 9, 2010 8:02PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
CARPENTERSVILLE — Quietly, within a modest housing complex here, a little boy’s life has been saved.
But that is how his hero wanted it — without fanfare or glory for his selfless act.
Having a heart for those in need, and inspired by a beloved grandmother who posthumously donated her organs to save lives, Chris Doing couldn’t say no when he saw Nathan Saavedra’s angelic face.
The toddler had needed a kidney transplant for more than a year. Doing, a virtual stranger, came to his rescue without a desire for his name to ever be known — even to the family.
Nathan, who will turn 2 on Nov. 20, has the rare disorder Prune Belly Syndrome, which affects the urinary system. Without a kidney transplant, he would have once again been put back on dialysis and continued to face a grave future.
Doing, an IT specialist who recently moved from Carpentersville to Palatine, read two Courier-News stories about Nathan’s plight earlier this year.
The first — published April 23 — was fate, Doing said. It was a sign, perhaps, that this was his time in life to reach out.
“I read an article that morning about someone donating a kidney to save a boy,” Doing said. “That afternoon, I saw (The Courier-News) article. The story motivated me to get involved.”
Nathan’s mother, Tina Saavedra, had contacted the newspaper in the spring about the family’s search for a kidney donor.
The story initially yielded six e-mail inquiries, Tina said, but after she responded, none of the parties followed up.
Little did Tina know that one of them had been going through the rigorous qualification process at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago the entire time.
“I was really motivated and touched by the story and picture of Nathan. It prompted me to keep pushing forward,” Doing said. “But I didn’t want to give the family the play by play, in case I was disqualified. I didn’t want to give them false hope.”
‘Yes, it’s me’
Named for the wrinkled skin found on the abdomen due to a lack of abdominal muscle, Prune Belly Syndrome is also characterized by large ureters, a distended bladder, and a backflow of urine to the kidneys.
Prior dialysis had caused Nathan to develop severe infections, but without it, his kidneys would have failed.
Tina and her husband, Jose, were both eliminated from consideration to donate. Plans were then made for Tina’s sister to donate, but soon after she became pregnant.
Interested donors needed to be blood type B or O. Doing, who is O-positive, read in a Courier-News article in July that Tina’s sister also had been eliminated as a potential donor. He called Children’s Memorial Hospital the same day.
Finally, in September, Doing reached out to Tina through a Facebook page she had set up for Nathan.
“After the second article ran, Children’s told me that someone submitted their blood type but couldn’t tell me who,” Tina said. “All of a sudden, I received a message from Chris. I said, ‘Are you the person saving my son?’ He said, ‘Yes, it’s me.’ ”
Couldn’t say no
The Oct. 25 transplant surgeries — which took place at Children’s for Nathan and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago for Doing — both went better than expected, according to Tina.
Nathan arrived back home last week with normal kidney function levels for the first time ever in his short but difficult life.
He still faces an abdominal muscle surgery in the future and will always take two anti-rejection medications. But his prognosis is excellent, Tina said.
Doing, 38, said he only had mild soreness and urges others to consider donating. He finally met the Saavedra family on the day Nathan was released from the hospital.
“It was heartbreaking to meet him. I wanted to cry,” Tina said. “He told me after seeing Nathan’s face he couldn’t say no.”
Doing grapples with the question of why he did such a selfless thing for someone he had never met. Nevertheless, he doesn’t want to be called a hero.
“I don’t think of it as an act of heroism. Help was needed, and I was able to help,” Doing said. “I can’t fully explain how or why I was motivated. Just knowing Nathan is doing well was all I was looking for.”
Doing said he was close to his grandmother, who died 17 years ago. The decision to donate her organs to save others is something he’ll never regret, or forget.
“I remember how rewarding it was to get letters from recipients and for something good to come of it,” Doing said. “I always hoped that if someone was in need in that way, I’d be man enough to assist them.”