A toddler suffering severe kidney problems has received a life-saving transplant from his 59-year-old grandmother.
Jack Cox, three, was born without a kidney and with just 4% function in the other.
He spent the first two years of his life in agony and, last autumn, when his remaining kidney began to fail, he was put on dialysis.
His grandmother Julie Cox was tested to see if she could donate one of her kidneys to him and, much to her delight, they were a match.
Jack has since received one of her kidneys and it’s transformed his life.
“He’s like any normal three-year-old now,” Julie said. “Which is something a lot of the family never thought they’d see.”
Jack showed signs of problems with his kidneys during scans before he was born.
His parents, Jennifer and Steven, welcomed Jack into the world six weeks early but he was missing one kidney and had just 4% function in the other.
Jack spent the the first two months of his life in hospital while medics tried to determine the extent of the damage caused to his organs.
When he was finally brought home to Tickhill, South Yorkshire, his battle continued and he spent his first two years of life in constant agony – vomiting 30-40 times a day and being fed through a tube into his stomach.
Jack’s grandmother Julie, 59, or ‘nanan’ as Jack calls her, said she knew from the moment he was born that she was ‘destined’ to donate one of her kidneys to him.
She said: “I just knew it would be me, don’t ask me why but I just had this feeling. I even started getting ready to save holiday so I could book time off work because I knew it.
“The surgeons told me this happens more than you think – there’s just something in the genes that tells you.”
Jack’s kidney began to fail last autumn and he was put onto dialysis at the age of just two. At this point, Jack’s family members began to get tested to see if they were a match.
Only Jack’s grandma, Julie, and his dad, Steven, 35, were found to share the same rare blood type, B positive, and so they were put forward to the next stage for tissue testing.
Each person is born with three sets of unique genetic markers known as antigens from each parent.
When looking for kidney donors, parents are often the best people to receive the organ from because they share at least three antigens out of six with you, and identical twins are even better because they share six out of six.
When Julie was tested, she was found to miraculously share five out of the six sets of unique genetic markers with Jack.
The grandmother-of-seven said: “It was the best match we could have hoped for. The doctors don’t even understand it how it’s possible for me to share that many of sets of genes with him.
“Doctors are often concerned about children receiving adult kidneys, but when they looked at my left kidney it was only two thirds the size of a normal adult kidney but it was doing 45% of the work so was fine.
“And my ureter, which is one of the parts Jack was born without, was longer than normal so it meant it was easier to attach my kidney.
“I feel like I was born to donate a kidney to Jack.”
In May this year, after months of testing and waiting for a spot with the surgeon, Julie was finally able to donate her kidney to Jack.
Thinking back to the night before the transplant operation, Julie says she did not even consider the risks to her health.
She said: “They test to make sure you’re fit and healthy before you’re very far into this process, but I didn’t even think about my age or anything like that I was so determined to be able to give him my kidney. I wasn’t scared before the operation, again because of that determination.”
After some initial medical issues for both Jack and Julie, the kidney transplant was successful.
Four months on and Julie says the transformation in Jack has been “miraculous”.
She said: “It’s been unbelievable. Because he was vomiting so much before Jack had a muslin cloth over his mouth most of the time, and so even though he could talk he didn’t much.
“He also couldn’t stand for long periods of time because he was in so much pain. But now he’s just got so much energy and is running about all the time.
“He’s like any normal three-year-old now, which is something a lot of the family never thought they’d see. When he was born his parents were told to go home and expect the worse, and so for two years every time the phone rang we expected the worst.”
She added: “When his aunties and uncles see him now they just burst into tears, because of how bad things were before. In the back of my mind though I always knew that I’d be able to give him a transplant and that he’d make it.”
There is a 56 year age gap between Julie and Jack – which is one of the largest ever recorded in the UK.
While Jack’s life is finally beginning to resemble that of any normal toddler, he will need to take immunosuppressants in order to prevent his body from rejecting his kidney for the rest of his life and may even need another transplant one day.
Because of the thousands of children just like Jack in need of a kidney, Julie is now encouraging more people to sign up to become an organ donor.
She said: “I was a live donor and it didn’t hurt me, so it’s not going to hurt you when you’re dead.
“We’re living longer now, but the number of organs being donated is going down.
“There are hundreds of parents and grandparents out there who love their sons and grandsons just as much as we love Jack, but they might not have the same outcome we’ve had because of this which is just heartbreaking to think about.”
The oldest donor age gap in the UK is believed to be 59 years. It was between grandmother June Cantor, 64, and granddaughter five-year-old Anna Harrison in 2014.