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A father’s gift
Dec. 30, 2013

Christmas time is known as the giving season, but Delano’s Kerry Fillmore couldn’t wait until December to give his son, Jackson, the gift of health. When Jackson, 6, needed a kidney, a ‘selfish’ Kerry didn’t hesitate to fulfill his son’s need

By Matt Kane
Sports Editor

DELANO — For Christmas, 6-year old Jackson Fillmore received a cordless drill and a wooden tool box kit, thanks to a visit from Santa Claus.

Jackson got what he wanted Christmas morning, but the biggest gift he received in 2013 arrived nine months earlier. The gift was not from Santa Claus and it was not shipped from the North Pole via a reindeer-led sleigh. Instead, the gift was from Jackson’s dad, Kerry, and it came from Dinkytown via an ambulance.

The gift was a healthy kidney.

After a year of feeling “pukey,” as Jackson describes it, because of his own failing kidneys, Jackson received his father’s kidney March 20, 2013, at Amplatz Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, while Kerry was recovering from the extraction across town at the University of Minnesota Medical Center.

“They took mine out and ran it over to him. It took them five hours to get mine out. They ran it over to him in 15 minutes,” Kerry explained of the process.

“Daddy, on the TV, I saw the inside of your body,” Jackson told his dad during this interview. “It was gross.”

While the kidney was being removed from Kerry’s body, Jackson watched on a monitor from the operating room where he awaited the organ’s arrival.

So, how does Jackson feel nine months later, living with his dad’s kidney?

“Good,” said Jackson, a bubbly kid, who enjoys watching SpongeBob SquarePants, and playing with Nerf guns and his little brother, Charlie, 4.

“He is doing exceptionally well,” said Kerry of his son.

Jackson will be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life, but that’s a small price considering where he was 21 months ago, when his health first started to decline, following a bout of strep throat.

Back in March 2012, Kerry and Heather had to remove Jackson from a taekwondo tournament at the Minneapolis Convention Center and take him to the emergency room at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia because their son was vomiting and had a swollen face.

From Waconia, Jackson was taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where he spent the next month before transferring to Amplatz, also in Minneapolis.

The thought of an allergic reaction was thrown around, or possibly a reaction to Jackson recently having tubes put in his ears. Neither was the problem.

“It was difficult because they didn’t know for so long. Even with the prognosis, I don’t think they were quite sure,” Kerry said.

Eventually, it was found out that Jackson had Postinfectious Glomerulonephritis, a condition where the antibodies that attacked the streptococcus bacteria attack the kidneys.

“It happens, but normally it doesn’t destroy the kidney,” said Kerry.

That wasn’t the case with Jackson.

“Eventually, they discovered that it almost ruined his kidneys. They were functioning at about 25 percent,” Kerry described. “They put him on dialysis and that wouldn’t work, so they hooked him up to hemodialysis as just a stop-gap measure. The real solution was to get a kidney transplant.”

The puzzlement in diagnosing what was wrong with Jackson came from the rarity of his condition.

“I think this was one of the only cases they have seen here,” Kerry said.

In November 2012, Jackson’s kidneys failed for a second time, and the transplant process quickly began.

A father’s gift

Giving his kidney to his young son was a way for Kerry to guarantee his son would be with the family for many Christmases to come.

“People say it is kind of a brave thing, but actually it is a selfish thing to me. I am responsible for these people — I have four children — and I want to spend time with him. I want him around,” Kerry said. “I had no hesitation.”

Jackson is the third child in Kerry and Heather Fillmore’s family. His older brother is Sam, 20, his older sister is Sophie, 17, and then there is Charlie.

From the time it was decided a kidney transplant would be necessary for Jackson, Kerry was ready to donate one of his. The doctors, however, said not so fast.

“My wife and I were talking about it because we both thought we would be a match. I told her I wanted to do it because I am the man and I have to do this,” Kerry explained. “But then the hospital talked to us and began saying things like, ‘You are the provider and if anything happens to you;’ and ‘You are older.’”

The brightest red flag when it came to Kerry donating his kidney was his age. He is 52 years old, and rarely do they accept organs from donors over age 50. With his wife and Jackson’s mother, Heather, being 12 years younger, she seemed like the better donor, on paper.

It turned out, though, that Jackson’s body would have rejected his mother’s kidney. And, as for the age issue; with Kerry, age is just a number. His birth certificate may say he was born in 1961, but he lives life like someone born 20 years later.

“I was a ‘specimen,’ they said,” said Kerry. “I was in awesome shape. I worked out twice per day. It’s different now,” he said with a chuckle.

Kerry performed like a 30-year-old as a runner and martial artist, and that kept him in shape to be a strong donor for his son.

If everything goes as planned, Kerry’s former kidney should work efficiently for 20 years in Jackson’s body.

Back at it

Two months after the transplant surgery, things are pretty much back to normal for the Fillmore family. Jackson is back in school, in Ms. Hunter’s first-grade class at Delano Elementary School, and Kerry is working full-time at his job in the pharmaceutical packaging and processing business.

Physically, a few things have changed. Both Jackson and Kerry have new scars on their abdomens, and, oh, yeah, Kerry has only one kidney, now, and Jackson has three.

Because Jackson’s old kidneys still work to some degree and do not pose a health risk, they did not need to be removed. His new kidney sits in his abdomen, near his right hip.

As for limitations, there aren’t any. Both are free to return to their taekwondo training in Buffalo — Jackson is an adult yellow belt and Kerry is a brown belt — and both are allowed to resume their other activities such as winter skiing.

“He’s been so tough. He’s a tough guy,” said Kerry of his son.

Kerry was a triathlete and marathoner before the transplant, although he hints that performing like a 30-year-old may be catching up to his 52-year-old frame.

The only side effect Kerry has noticed since the transplant is his body’s ability to regulate temperature, a feat performed by the kidneys.

Kerry’s temperature regulation system was tested this past October, when the family visited Disney World in Orlando as part of a Make-A-Wish trip for the Fillmores.

“Good,” said Jackson of the Disney trip. “I got to go see Mickey Mouse. Mickey signed the bottom of the foot of my Mickey doll.”

Jackson found out he was going to Disney World in May at the Make-A-Wish Ball in Minneapolis. Jackson and Kerry both admitted Disney was their second choice, but neither was complaining.

“That wasn’t my first choice,” Kerry said, jokingly, about Disney. “I should have told you to go to Hawaii, right?”

Jackson had a different place in mind.

“I wanted to go see Winter the dolphin,” said Jackson, referring to the dolphin that inspired the movie “Dolphin Tale.” Winter resides at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, FL.

“That was his first choice, but they wouldn’t let him because of the germs. Actually, Disney World is probably worse when it comes to germs, but oh, well,” said Kerry.

Kerry’s humbleness and giving spirit shined through when he found out about the trip to Disney.

“It was strange because we can take our own vacations, and I felt guilty about it. I told them to get somebody who is less fortunate,” Kerry explained. “They told me that’s not the point. The point is that he has been spending months and months in the hospital and we have gone through this trauma, and they want to take care of us and do something we don’t even have to think about.”

The Make-A-Wish representatives were not the only people to help make life easier for the Fillmores.

“Everyone has been so supportive. Heather’s boss was great, and my boss, too. And the insurance company was phenomenal, and that is something you don’t hear very often,” said Kerry. “The doctors and nurses at Children’s and Amplatz were great.”

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