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Brayden's kidney journey: how this 4-year-old has defied all odds

Brayden's kidney journey: how this 4-year-old has defied all odds

In the quiet of the hospital room, Falyn and Brian Zorn were struck with devastating news at just 14-weeks of pregnancy. From that moment on their journey was marked by uncertainty and challenges that would test their strength and resilience. 

It all started during what should have been a routine pregnancy checkup. At 14-weeks pregnant, Falyn was told the unimaginable – she had lost all amniotic fluid. Doctors warned her of the grim possibilities: a miscarriage or delivering a stillborn baby. The weeks that followed were a blur of anxiety as they tried to think through the next steps with their baby boy. “Everyone was uncertain because the doctors couldn’t see what was going on since there was no amniotic fluid, they couldn’t see him in the ultrasound,” says Falyn. 

At 36 weeks, Falyn got induced to have her baby boy. "Doctors said he only had the lungs of a 14-week- old baby and assumed he would be born, gasp for air, then pass away from respiratory distress,” explains Falyn. However, Brayden defied expectations and entered the world with a fierce cry, determined to prove doctors wrong. They learned more details about Brayden's expected delicate health. With only one kidney and cysts plaguing his remaining one, their precious baby boy faced a daunting battle ahead. They knew he was going to have renal problems but only time would tell what his journey held in store. After 17 days in their local hospital NICU, Brayden needed to get more specialized care.  

Brayden's journey led them to the NICU of Children's Hospital, where their care team became their lifeline for the next 4 months. From the dedicated renal doctors to the compassionate nurses who tended to Brayden's every need, they found solace in the unwavering support of their medical family.  

As Brayden grew, so did the challenges he faced. Tracheostomies, ventilators, and surgeries became routine in his young life as he battled renal failure and respiratory complications. “As the months went on, his kidney was declining dramatically,” Falyn says “He went from stage 2 to stage 5 renal failure in a year. He was also diagnosed with Pierre Robins Sequence meaning he has a small jaw and receding jawline since he was compacted in my stomach with no amniotic fluid.” Brayden was trached at two months old and at 8 months old he became completely trach and ventilator dependent due to his underdeveloped esophagus and jaw.  

Each setback tested their resolve, but Brayden smiled through all of it. In July 2022, they got the news they had been longing for – a chance at a new lease on life through a kidney transplant. Because Brayden was trach and ventilator dependent, he was not eligible for a transplant as first. His doctors were determined to get him the help he needed to thrive and decided to ween him off the ventilator and remove the trach. Removing the trach meant that doctors would have to reconstruct his undeveloped esophagus. Dr. Jessica Zaggory, pediatric surgeon, along with Brayden’s team of incredible pulmonologists and ear nose and throat specialists, performed an incredible reconstructive surgery.  

With his new esophagus, and being successfully weened off the ventilator, Brayden was finally put on the transplant list, however the Zorns hoped they would be able to find a living donor in a family member or friend that would be willing to expedite the process to save their son’s life. After months of searching, in September of 2022, a selfless donor emerged in Sonya, a beacon of hope in their darkest hour. “We went to my husband Brian’s coworkers house for a baby shower. His coworker’s mom, Sonya, heard about Brayden’s need for a new kidney and she said she wanted to get tested to see if she was a match.” Falyn says, “She was a perfect match.”  

They experienced a few setbacks with the transplant that postponed the surgery for almost a year, however, Brayden finally received his lifesaving surgery on September 27, 2023. The transplant was a success, marking a new chapter filled with possibilities. “It was Brayden’s 15 surgery since he was born.” says Falyn, “He had the transplant when he was three, which at the time was the youngest to have a kidney transplant at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.” 

As Brayden recovered from his transplant, and with each passing day, he grew stronger and healthier,  

Brayden is now 4 years old and thriving. As they look towards the future, Falyn knows that Brayden's journey is far from over. Falyn says, “He will have to have another reconstructive surgery when he is 15 or 16 to correct his jaw, and doctors say he will have 2 or 3 more kidney transplants in his lifetime.” The Zorns remain hopeful that Brayden will continue to defy the odds.  

Now, as Brayden embarks on his journey of recovery, his spirit shines brighter than ever. With each passing day, he defies the odds and embraces life with an unmatched enthusiasm. From his love for Blippy, to his infectious laughter, Brayden's joy is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. “He is the happiest kid, says Falyn, “with everything he has been through the child never takes a smile off his face.” The compassionate Palliative Care team at Children’s Hospital New Orleans also connected Brayden with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Brayden has just shared his wish to visit Disney World later this year! 

The Zorns are forever grateful to their incredible team of doctors, nurses, and specialists at Children's Hospital New Orleans. They are especially grateful to Sonya, a kind-hearted stranger turned hero, offering him the gift of life through her selfless donation of a kidney. It was a moment of pure joy and gratitude, a testament to the power of love and the kindness of strangers.