Kidney is perfect Christmas gift for local boy
By Julia Green
The number one item on nine-year-old Margaretville resident Cameron Passarelli’s Christmas list this year was a kidney. A close second was a Nintendo Wii.
When he was born, Cameron went from seven to eight pounds overnight – the first indication to doctors that something wasn’t quite right. He was diagnosed with multicystic kidney disease, a condition that develops prenatally and occurs when cysts replace normal kidney tissue. The Passarellis were told that their son would likely live just three days.
Doctors determined that Cameron had been born with just 25 percent of his kidney function; by this past December, he was down to two percent. Then, on Dec. 1, Cameron was placed on dialysis.
“We were kind of discouraged when he went on dialysis, because he’d held his own for so long,” said Cameron’s father, Gregg.
That disappointment didn’t last long. In the days leading up to Christmas, Cameron had taken to telling people that he was hoping to get a kidney transplant for Christmas. And, at 7 a.m. Christmas morning, he got his wish.
Early morning call
“I remember the phone ringing Christmas morning, and I said, ‘Who’s calling this early?’ I thought it was my niece or nephew,” said Mindy Passarelli, Cameron’s mother. “I looked at the Caller ID and saw it was his doctor’s name and I froze.”
“We had literally just opened Christmas gifts,” Gregg remembered. “Then at 7 the phone rang, and Cameron’s doctor at the Boston Children’s Hospital, William Harmon, said, ‘Merry Christmas. I have a kidney for you – how fast can you get here?’”
Cameron Passarelli is no stranger to the operating table, and the surgery to give him a new kidney certainly wasn’t his first. He has undergone 22 different surgeries in his nine years, including heart surgeries, a vesicostomy, a hernia operation and heart catheter surgeries, as well as operations on his back due to the 65-degree curvature of his spine that was diagnosed a year ago. The rods placed in his back will be lengthened every six months as he grows until he finishes growing, at which point doctors may do a fusion with a permanent rod.
“He’s a tough kid – he’s never complained,” Gregg said. “I couldn’t imagine going through what he goes through. He has a really high pain tolerance; he won’t take pain medication and only takes Tylenol. Eight back surgeries, and only takes Tylenol. I’ve never seen a kid go through that much pain, but the transplant surgery was the first time he took pain meds.”
Prior to the transplant surgery, Cameron would undergo a round of medications in the morning and a shot of steroids at night. In addition, he would undergo peritoneal dialysis at night before progressing to hemodialysis for three weeks prior to the surgery.
“He deals with it very well,” Mindy said. “He kind of just goes with the flow, and he’s never had a thing about going into surgery. He’s like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ He’s actually pushing them. He’s always handled it pretty well. He’s very strong-willed.”
Aside from his medical challenges, both Gregg and Mindy say that Cameron is like any other nine-year-old boy. He has collected somewhere between 200 and 300 action figures that he stores in duffel bags, and although he can’t participate in sports due to his spinal curvature, he has an undeniable enthusiasm for wrestling. He had the opportunity to meet WWE wrestler The Undertaker and the WWE Divas through the Make-A-Wish Foundation four years ago.
One thing that sets him apart from his peers, however, is his sense of style.
“He likes to dress up in three-piece suits when he goes to school,” Gregg said. “He even left the hospital in a three-piece suit – they said he was the best-dressed transplant patient to ever leave the hospital. He’s real particular about it; you rarely see him in regular clothes.”
A fourth-grader at Margaretville Central School, Cameron is a two-time winner of the school’s lip-sync contest. The first year, a duet with his sister, Megan, to the tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out?” secured the win; the following year, his solo performance of Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” clinched the title.
And, Gregg says, he’s already got his career path in mind: when he grows up, Cameron wants to be a transplant doctor at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Three days before Christmas, Cameron’s mother, Mindy, made a prediction.
“The way it happened was kind of freaky, in a way,” said Gregg. “Three days before Christmas, she said, ‘The kids are going to open their gifts, and we’re going to get a call from Boston for a kidney.’”
The call came, and the Passarellis were waiting.
“How we felt, I don’t really know how to explain that,” Mindy said. “Anxious and nervous at the same time, I guess. The whole family, everybody’s been saying, ‘I can’t believe it happened on Christmas.’ Nobody can quite believe it happened the way it did.”
After a faster-than-normal drive to Boston Children’s Hospital, Cameron went in at 8:30 p.m., underwent surgery at midnight, and was out of the operating room by 2:30 a.m. Afterward, nurses started pushing him to get mobile.
“They wanted him up and moving,” Gregg remembered. “They told him that 14 laps around the hospital floor was a mile; two days after the operation, he did a mile. Three days after, he did two miles.”
The following Saturday, Cameron was released.
For the next two months, Cameron and Mindy are staying in Boston while Cameron undergoes transfusions and his progress is monitored. The first two months post-transplant are the most critical due to the infusions as well as the possibility of organ rejection; however, Cameron “seems to be doing excellent,” his dad says.
Signs of improvement
“He was almost up to 11 creatinine, and now he’s down to 1.2,” Gregg said; an ideal figure for a child would be 0.6 or 0.9. He’ll be on six medications for a year, after which the volume of medication needed will drop.
“His body can reject the kidney at any time, but there will be signs, such as a high fever,” Gregg added. “Everything’s going to change. He’ll be normal, except for having to take the meds. He’ll have a normal life now.”
As a more normal life awaits him, Cameron is anticipating the changes that are in store for him.
“He wants to try eating new things,” Gregg said. “He’s looking forward to feeling better; basically, he’ll feel normal now. The hospital wants him to eat fruits and vegetables because he’s never eaten them. So far, he’s eaten an apple.”
And, with a little luck, perhaps the Passarelli family can take a breather. Just over a year ago, Gregg was admitted to the hospital following a massive heart attack and had to undergo open-heart surgery – on Christmas Eve, and right around his birthday.
Cameron was upset “that I had to spend my birthday in the hospital again this year,” Gregg remembered. “I said, ‘Buddy, this is the best birthday present I’ve ever had.”