Caleb Robbins has spent a large part of his childhood on dialysis. Three days a week, for four hours a day, a machine took care of what his own kidneys couldn’t. He’s spent so much time at Cincinnati Children’s that the nurses nicknamed him “the mayor of dialysis”.
“He is a solo welcome committee on dialysis. If there’s a new person he says, ‘Hi how are you, what’s your name?’” said Michelle Robbins, Caleb’s mom. “He talks to everyone, he knows all the nurses by name. Caleb is just full of personality.”
Caleb was born with Eagle-Barrett syndrome, where his abdominal muscles didn’t form properly causing problems with his urinary tract. At age two, he was placed on a deceased donor waiting list after doctors determined he needed a new kidney.
“Children who are on dialysis are expected to live for only 20 years from where they are at, where the day a child receives a kidney transplant, their life expectancy goes up to 55 or 60 years,” said David Hooper, MD, MS, medical director of kidney transplantation at Cincinnati Children’s. “It’s clearly a better quality of life, as well as quantity of life.”
The Robbins’ family waited more than three years before they got word out of the blue, from a total stranger, 400 miles away in Alabama.
“I put Caleb’s background on Facebook and that’s when the donor messaged me,” said Robbins. “She asked me, ‘What do I need to do?’”
Britteny Honan, a mom of two young children, decided to give the gift a life to Caleb. A child she never met, but felt compelled to help after reading about his journey on social media.
In September of 2019, Caleb’s parents and care team surprised him with a party at the hospital where Britteny was on video chat from Alabama giving him the good news.
After going through a series of extensive testing and evaluations through the Living Kidney Donor program at Cincinnati Children’s, Brittney was a match.
“For Caleb and his family, I’ll tell you it was a miracle,” said Dr. Hooper. “One day he’s sitting there on dialysis not knowing if his kidney will come through. He’d been waiting for three years and suddenly he hears there’s someone who called up and offered them his kidney. That’s a miracle.”
On his last day of treatment, Caleb’s care team threw him a super hero send-off with lots of hugs and high-fives as their “mayor of dialysis” made his way down this hall way for the last time.
In November, Britteny traveled from Alabama to Cincinnati for the transplant surgery without hesitation.
“I hope he does everything he sets out to do. And just be a normal kid and get to do everything he should,” said Britteny.
The transplant surgery was a success with both Caleb and Britteny making full recoveries.
Today, Caleb is thriving with his new kidney. His central line for dialysis kept him from taking a bath but now his mom says he wants to take one every day. One of his biggest accomplishments is completing his kindergarten year at school.
“There’s a reason why God brought him to us I think, because I learned a lot from him, he’s a strong little kid,” said Robbins.
The Robbins family hopes to take a trip and reunite with Britteny in the near future.
“This gift that Britteny gave Caleb will give him a chance to be a normal kid. Now he can go to school, go swimming, and enjoy a life he never had before,” said Robbins. “She’s a blessing. She’s come to be part of our family and I think always will be.”