“They have a match for Aaron,” his mother Elizabeth wrote on her Facebook page. “We’re headed to L.A. Put out all the prayers.”
At press time, the blond-haired, blue-eyed 5-year-old was recovering from the double transplant, sitting up in bed at UCLA Medical Center munching graham crackers and sipping milk through a straw.
Aaron’s journey has riveted the community through Elizabeth’s page on Facebook, where friends have made checking Aaron’s progress part of their daily routine. It began with a birth defect that caused his heart to function on only the right side. Over the years, the Brentwood boy has undergone seven open-heart surgeries to help correct the problem. But last year, doctors discovered that renal failure was putting too much pressure on Aaron’s heart and that he would need both a heart and kidney transplant in order to survive.
Aaron was placed on the organ donor list in August of 2009, and from then until last week, the 5-year-old endured thrice-weekly kidney dialysis treatments at UCSF Medical Center in an effort to keep his system working until a donor could be found.
That a donor eventually was found, and the reason it became available, is something the Tanners are acutely aware of. “We don’t have anything on the donor family yet,” said Elizabeth in an interview with The Press this week. “But we are so grateful.”
The Tanners have been continuously grateful and amazed since arriving at the UCLA facility by chartered flight on Friday, when Aaron was whisked into surgery and his family and friends began holding vigil that his tiny, exhausted body would accept the new heart and kidney.
The surgery was more complicated than his team of surgeons had anticipated, and at one point the procedure had to be stopped as they waited for Aaron to stabilize. The heart was transplanted first, and while difficult, was completed. But when doctors went back in for the second phase – the kidney transplant – Aaron began to crash.
“Surgeon just came to talk to me,” Elizabeth posted. “We overheard pages of many doctors to his OR and they had to stop (the surgery) because he was crashing … They feel they can now continue but not without risk. They told me the risk of continuing. Please pray. I’m on my knees; he has to pull through.”
And so the sweet-faced boy with a love for the Power Rangers TV show did just that – displaying such superhero strengths of his own that doctors have taken to calling their little patient the Red (Power) Ranger.
“His team is beaming from ear to ear,” wrote Elizabeth. “When they come to see him it’s really just to share the joy. They are as proud of him as we are and calling him a superhero too.”
Throughout the yearlong ordeal, the Tanners, including older brothers Noah and Nicholas, have received an outpouring of support from friends, family and community well wishers flooding the pages of Facebook with the messages.
“That Aaron continues to upswing is wonderful. Remember you never gave up hope and Aaron knew that all the way, that’s why he is a fighter from what you and Mark have instilled in him,” one Facebook friend posted.
As for their son’s gift of life, the Tanners hope one day to be able to thank the donor family in person. “They (doctors) require you to wait some time before you’re given any information, since the donor family is grieving and recipients are getting through major surgery, some successful and some not,” said Elizabeth. “But I can’t wait to meet them. I do know that it came from far away, the Pacific Northwest. The surgeon told us that it was a three and a half hour trip each way. It’s all so incredible how it has fallen into place.”
If all continues as planned, Aaron is expected to remain at UCLA for the next three months, undergoing biopsies and tests to make sure his system doesn’t reject the transplants. After that, he will come home to Brentwood and undergo a year of continuous checkups and tests at UCSF – and annual checkups after that.
“He will always have medical follow-up, and everything will be double because of the heart and kidney,” said Elizabeth. “But we’re just taking it one day at a time … We could never have gotten through all this without the prayer warriors everywhere, and especially in Brentwood. We could never have survived without their encouragement and love.”
A fund at the ECC/Bank of Agriculture and Commerce, 2251 Balfour Road in Brentwood, remains open in the Tanner family’s name for those wishing to make a donation.