PHOTO: Mother and son, Deb and Chase Sternhagen, pose for a picture together while recovering from surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City. Deb graciously donated one of her kidneys to her son Chase, who suffers from a kidney disease known as Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). (Photos submitted)
PHOTO: The Sternhagen family celebrates Deb’s birthday together. Front from left, Caden and Chase. Back row, Carter, Corey, Ron and Deb.
By Kim Brooks, Express Editor
Clutching his stuffed purple kidney (a gift from a nurse at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics), 12-year-old Chase Sternhagen looks and acts like any other 12-year-old kid. However, he just had a kidney transplant a month ago.
Chase has a kidney disease known as Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). In an interview with the Monticello Express in October 2011, Chase’s parents, Ron and Deb, said there is not a cure for FSGS, but it could go into remission. After continued issues with his kidneys, Chase’s ultimate fix was a kidney transplant.
“We knew from the beginning that this would eventually happen,” Deb said. “He got progressively worse and was a good candidate. He was close to needing dialysis.”
Once the matching process began, Deb said she wanted to be the first one tested to see if she would be able to donate one of her kidneys to her son.
“It took a lot of tests, blood work, physicals, EKGs, MRIs and more,” she explained of the testing process.
Deb was the first and only one tested, as she was an immediate match! Ron said he wasn’t able to get tested because he and Chase do not have the same blood type.
“We got lucky with one test,” said Deb.
The Sternhagen family checked into the U of I Hospital in Iowa City on Oct. 23; surgery was scheduled for the following day. Deb was released within just a few days after surgery. Five days later, Chase was able to go home.
During the recovery process, the family experienced a hiccup when Chase’s body began to reject the transplanted kidney.
“After some blood work, there were signs that his new kidney was not taking well,” Deb explained.
Chase was put on medication and now is recovering quite well. He goes in for lab tests a few times a week.
“He’s stable now, though,” Ron said.
The Sternhagens also have a younger son at home, Caden. During the surgery and recovery in Iowa City, they were able to get a hospital suite for the family to shower in and stay close by.
“The doctors and nurses at the hospital were so great and good to us,” Deb said. They explained everything to Chase along the way so he wasn’t scared and knew what was going on. “The University of Iowa is the best in the area for pediatric transplants,” noted Deb.
While Chase has been home from school as he recovers, he said he’s been keeping up on his homework, reading and playing video games. He does miss his friends, though.
“I was excited to have a friend over a couple days after I got home,” he expressed.
When doing schoolwork, Chase is able to Skype with his teachers if he has any questions.
Chase will hopefully return to school after the first of the year.
For now, he has to make sure he drinks plenty of water every day, at least two to three liters, and stay up on his medications to prevent infections.
“We don’t want him ending up back in the hospital,” Deb said. They also have to make sure he does not come into contact with anyone who might be sick because Chase’s immune system is not back to normal quite yet.
For Deb, she has been on weight lifting and driving restrictions since returning home.
“I’m not as tired anymore,” she said.
When it came to wanting to get tested for her son, Deb said, “I never gave it a second thought. It’s something you want to do for your kids. It’s my job to care for him. It’s not any different than what other parents do for their kids.”
Chase said he will never be able to play contact sports, but is glad the school includes him in the fifth and sixth grade football program.
“I can’t play, but I get to help out and still be part of the team,” he said. “They let me wear a jersey, too.”
Throughout the surgery and recovery at home, the Sternhagens were inundated with a huge outpouring of support from friends, neighbors and the community. Ron said their neighbor mowed their lawn while they were in Iowa City. People have stopped by with food and monetary donations as well. Chase received many cards from his classmates.
“We’re getting a lot of pasta,” Chase said of the gracious meals brought by. Both he and Caden said they’ve enjoyed the food.
Ron kept everyone updated via Facebook throughout the whole ordeal. The family even received a $500 donation from a complete stranger who said he read about their story online and just wanted to help.
“Words can’t express how thankful we are,” he said.