‘He’s not just unlucky’: South Florida baby gets long-awaited kidney transplant

A kid from South Florida was fighting for his life. The 3-year-old son of John Paul Medina and Jessica Ortiz, JP, went viral after his parents asked for a new kidney back in February.

JP was born with a disease that prevents his kidneys from processing toxins. So he needs a new one.

NBC6 spoke exclusively to JP’s parents as their wish finally came true. And all thanks to one woman, JP got a new kidney.

“She changed the lives of many people that day,” JP’s father said.

His family still thinks about the day the stranger answered the call that saved JP’s life.

Lauris Palacio signed the dotted line agreeing to become a JP kidney donor.

“I’m ready!” Said Palacio before the operation on June 16th.

“She was very excited that she came up. … One of the most courageous and strong women I have met to this day, ”said Medina.

Doctors say it was a quick turnaround for JP given the circumstances. The Miami Transplant Institute at Jackson Memorial Hospital confirmed that the average waiting time for pediatric recipients of deceased kidney donors in the United States is 2-3 years. Adults and general patients wait an average of 3.5-4 years.

Meanwhile, the average waiting time for a living kidney donor for pediatric patients is approximately 3 months, depending on the program. Doctors at Niklaus Children’s Hospital, where JP received some help, said that living donors are usually family members or friends, greatly reducing the waiting time, but not everyone is so lucky.

Before Palacio took over as JP, his family was bouncing back and forth between the hospital and their Miami home, hoping for a match.

“I worried every second. … It was stressful,” said Ortiz, JP’s mother, reflecting on the moments after JP’s birth. “There were more complications than I knew before.”

Ortiz didn’t know why she didn’t know why the doctors took her baby to the incubator.

“It was a waiting game,” Medina said.

While JP was in the womb, doctors diagnosed him with obstructive uropathy, which occurs when toxins such as urine cannot be removed, blocking the kidneys. This condition caused JP to develop end-stage renal failure and was sent to the intensive care unit for 7 months because his kidneys were unable to function at the level required for daily living. He will also need 12 hours of dialysis every night.

“When you think about it, it’s a plumbing problem,” said Dr. Nicole Christian, one of the JP doctors at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital. “His kidneys couldn’t drain properly. And that eventually led to his kidneys failing at birth. Thus, they cannot properly purify the blood.”

Medina said that seeing his little boy like this was the hardest part of the journey. “His body itself began to look like poison.”

Those months of intensive care visits quickly turned into years of crossed fingers and false hopes as Medina said it was an uphill battle to find a living donor.

Medina said that a living donor provides a longer shelf life for the kidneys because they reduce the chance of transplant rejection. “The chances are changing. This could potentially be a lifelong kidney for (JP).”

Nationwide, about 15% of deceased kidney donors are rejected by the recipient within the first 6 months after transplantation, according to the Miami Transplant Institute.

Medina said JP’s journey was far from short and painless. Luckily, doctors found a match for JP with the deceased donor in September 2022, but unfortunately that was at the same time that JP became ill with COVID-19. So the doctors said it’s back to the drawing board.

“That’s what made me really lose hope. I’m like, “Uh-huh. It will be much more difficult than I thought,” Medina said.

Despite the setback, Medina, a programmer, used his digital marketing skills to create the Living Donor Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that children and people like JP get the help they need.

The project, launched in January 2023, has been successful. In less than 2 months, Medina said more than 460 people had pledged to donate their kidney to his son.

“JP is just the first person, the first child we help. … (They) need our help,” Medina said.

It turns out that the night before JP’s surgery, doctors found a match with another deceased donor, but JP was already insured, all because of Palacio’s promise to be JP’s lifeline.

“She potentially saved two lives that day,” Medina said. “She has changed the lives of our family… She has changed the lives of those families that are part of another kidney recipient.”

From January 2022 to the end of June 2023, 70 pediatric kidney transplants were performed in the state of Florida, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network.

If you would like to know if you are a suitable donor, please click here.

But now, “(for) JP, I want him to know he wasn’t just out of luck,” Medina said, lighting up his pride in his son’s struggle.

“He pulled himself up on the bed and said, “Yes, yes. Walk.’ He just wanted to take a walk. And it’s hard for him to walk, you know,” Medina said after the successful operation. “That says a lot about his character. Strength and how strong he is and how he overcame so many different things.”

JP’s strength leads him to a long and happy childhood.

“I want everyone to know that they can make a difference. They can affect the lives of many people and give a child like JP the opportunity to grow up to be a child,” Medina said, urging all South Florida residents to get involved as much as possible to save a life. “I hope we can change this together.”

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