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Cedars-Sinai Blog

Just Like a Regular Kid

Vinnie Dodd, now 10, received a kidney transplant when he was 2.

Before Vincent "Vinnie" Dodd was born, he was given a 3% chance of survival.

Still in his mother’s belly, Vinnie's lungs were collapsed, his bladder full of urine, and if that wasn't enough, there was no fluid left in his mom's amniotic sac.

Born prematurely at 28 weeks, Vinnie weighed 1 pound, 12 ounces and could fit into the palm of his mom's hand. He had complete renal failure and was diagnosed with PUV, or posterior urethral valves.

Mary Dodd was told her son's condition was so dire he wouldn't make it through the day after birth, let alone a week. But she refused to believe that nothing could be done to save her son's life, so Mary took him home and set about finding someone to take on Vinnie's challenging case.

After several failed attempts to find a hospital and physician to treat Vinnie, Mary finally found a pediatrician who would take on the case. That pediatrician suggested Vinnie be seen by urologists at Cedars-Sinai, and the Dodds were introduced to pediatric nephrologists Dr. Dechu Puliyanda and Dr. Elaine Kamil.

"Cedars-Sinai gave us hope, where others gave us hospice."

Puliyanda recalls the day she met Vinnie. It was a busy day and he was he last patient they saw for the day. He was 8 months old and was eating very well, Puliyanda said, but not gaining weight. Additionally, his blood urea nitrogen level (a signal of how well the kidneys are working) was so high it was unreadable by the machine testing it.

"We got a call from the laboratory right away saying, 'We don’t know if this is real. It's so off the charts,'" said Puliyanda, director of Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Nephrology.

Bottom line: Vinnie's kidneys were not properly removing waste products and excess fluid from his body.

Although the results seemed alarming, Puliyanda was confident Vinnie could survive, and for the first time Mary felt she was given hope.

Vinnie was immediately put on dialysis and two years later, when he finally weighed a healthy 18½ pounds, he was placed on the Donate Life kidney transplant list.

"Everything changed after that—he was finally given a chance," said Mary. "Cedars-Sinai gave us hope, where others gave us hospice."

In February 2009, Vinnie received a kidney.

"With my new kidney I get to run and play," said 10-year-old Vinnie, who can be described as fearless, curious, and a bit of a daredevil. When he’s not at school, Vinnie can be found racing his red pedal car around the yard or zipping through the mountains on his green quad on weekend trips with his family.

"He’s definitely a car guy. He can name any kind of car he spots on the road," said Mary. "He loves camping, his Hot Wheels, his quad, and his dirt bike—he’s just like a regular kid."

"I talk to Vinnie every night about the little boy who we received the kidney from. It's the most unselfish act of kindness, and it usually comes from a stranger."

The generosity of a stranger made such an impact on Mary’s life that she has a large Donate Life flag waving in her front lawn, the words "Donate Life" stitched on the tire cover of her Jeep, and an outgoing message encouraging callers to become organ donors on her cellphone.

Vinnie and his parents, Mary and Ben, are ardent supporters of organ donation. "It’s the greatest gift,” said Mary.

Mary also has a green ribbon—the symbol for donation awareness—tattooed on her right arm next to two butterflies, one for Vinnie and the other for the boy who donated the kidney.

"I talk to Vinnie every night about the little boy who we received the kidney from. It's the greatest gift," said Mary. "It's the most unselfish act of kindness, and it usually comes from a stranger."

After the transplant, Vinnie lost most of his hair, but as he started to get better and his medications leveled out, his thick wavy mane started to grow back in.

"Now every time I see his hair, I see what he's gone through and his strength," Mary said about her son's long blond hair. "As it gets longer and longer, it's like he's getting stronger and stronger."

When asked if he would ever cut his hair, Vinnie says without hesitation: "Never."

Throughout Donate Life Month, we'll be sharing the stories of Cedars-Sinai transplant patients like Vinnie.