Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013 2:45 pm | Updated: 11:14 am, Wed Feb 6, 2013.
Bendan Elam was visibly excited at the prospect of shooting some hoops Jan. 29 during Upward Basketball at First Baptist Church.
But it was not time. His parents said he needed more time to heal. He was just there to visit.
Brendan, 10, is recovering from a liver transplant. His father, Jason, said it would be “pushing it” to play around too much.
For the past month, most of Brendan’s trips outside his Kearney home have been to Children’s Mercy Hospital. Occasionally he’ll get to go in a store when it’s mostly empty, and he hasn’t been back to school
“We try to keep him from touching things,” Jason said.
Brandon is on immune-suppression medicine so his body won’t reject the new liver.
“It’s been pretty boring,” Brendan said.
He prefers to be playing basketball or doing something active.
But Brendan has known his current limitations could be coming the past five years, and the transplant had been imminent since March last year.
A lifetime illness
Jason and Stacy Elam, both teachers in Kearney R-1 School District, knew something was wrong with Brendan when he was just 2 weeks old. He was still jaundiced after coming home from the hospital in May 2002.
Doctors ran test after test trying to determine a diagnosis.
“Alpha One was last on the list because of its rarity,” Jason wrote in an email.
But Alpha One Antitrypsin Deficiency was the eventual diagnosis after two months. Jason said most people with the condition live with the disease into adulthood without realizing it, but Brendan developed cirrhosis of the liver.
The Elams knew a liver transplant could be in Brendan’s future since he was about 5 years old.
When Brendan was 8 years old, doctors determined he needed a feeding tube to supplement his waning nutrition. Since then, Brendan has had a G-tube inserted in his belly at night to help him get nutrients his body was not absorbing from this regular diet.
After five cases of peritonitis, an inflammation of the tissue lining the inner wall of the abdomen, doctors decided to put Brendan on the liver transplant list in March.
Stacy got the call that it was time for Brendan’s transplant just as she sat down for lunch at school. She immediately called Jason, who had also just sat down for lunch, then got Brendan.
“I didn’t even get to sit down,” Brendan said.
Brendan went into surgery the evening of Dec. 20, and the surgeons weren’t done until nearly 6 a.m. Dec. 21.
He spent Christmas at Children’s Mercy Hospital,
“I just didn’t get to spend it with my family. That was probably the worst part about having it in the hospital,” Brendan said.
But he did benefit from a local toy drive. Caleb Wolf of Kearney co-organized a toy drive for Children’s Mercy Hospital after he had to spend a holiday there. Brendan was a recipient of the Henson’s Heroes toys and was surprised to find a fellow Kearney student visiting the hospital for Christmas.
As for his parents, having him spend Christmas in the hospital was a blessing because the new liver meant a path to better health.
“It was the best Christmas gift we could get,” Stacy said.
The Elams said they experienced excitement, fear, anxiety, joy, relief, nervousness and a sense of humbleness for this gift from the donor family when they found out it was time for the transplant.
Stacy was especially thankful for Angela Tendick, the nurse practitioner who has been helping the family since Brendan’s first inpatient stay at Children’s Mercy.
“She has been with us for the entire journey, so it seemed fitting that Angela, who is like family to us, was the one to make the call to let us know that there was a liver for Brendan,” Stacy said.
Kearney-area residents have rallied around the Elams with activities including raffling puppies and hosting spaghetti dinner fundraisers to help pay medical bills. Jason said they have been told to expect about $10,000 in transplant expenses after insurance pays its share.
“Teachers don’t make that kind of money,” Lori Keplinger said.
She and Kathy Weidmaier co-organized a spaghetti dinner to benefit the Elams Jan. 18. Keplinger works with Jason at Kearney High School.
“We’re a close-knit little family at the high school,” Keplinger said.
Fellow church members, former students, parents of students and friends attended the dinner. Among them was Marlene Dunham. Her son, Richard, still keeps in touch with Jason — including going on jogs together when he is in town from Rolla — after having him as a teacher attending a trip to New York with the choir.
“He’s really achieved and looked up Mr. Elam,” Dunham said of her son.
Like many, Dunham had compliments about Jason’s character as a teacher and person that leaves a lasting impression.
“He has this warmth about him,” she said.
The Elams said they were overwhelmed and extremely thankful for the financial, spiritual and moral support from the community.
“I think it has made us stronger in our faith,” Jason said.
Return to routine
Brendan was hoping to return to school this week but isn’t cleared by doctors to do any strenuous activity until Feb. 18. His sister has been bringing home his homework.
“So we’re able to stay pretty close to caught up,” Stacy said.
Brendan said he misses his friends the most.
“I used to be like a boy in a bubble,” he said at Upward Basketball on Jan. 29 — his first outing to see friends. “I just like being around people.”
Kearney Editor Kevin M. Smith can be reached at 628-6010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.