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In his short lifetime, my son has endured two major surgeries and three hospitalizations. At age 14 months, he underwent ureter re-implantation surgery to correct level V reflux in his solitary left kidney.

In utero, my ultrasound revealed that my son had a solitary kidney. Somewhere along the way, from week 20 to week 28, his right kidney decided to atrophy. By week 32, the kidney was barely distinguishable amongst his intestines. At birth, his ultrasound revealed that the right kidney no longer existed, not anywhere in his small 8lb body.

Prior to his birth, I had already seen his future urologist. Pregnant, I scheduled his first diagnostic test, needed to assess the health of his solitary kidney. At age six weeks, my son would undergo another ultrasound and a VCUG (voiding cystourethrogram), a specialized x-ray to determine the health of his urinary tract system. In essence, the VCUG checks for kidney reflux.

Most times when I mention “kidney reflux” people acknowledge this medical concern, and then retort, “Well, then, he’ll just need to be on Zantac or Prevacid, correct”? No. This is the “other” reflux, kidney reflux not GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease). So, what is kidney reflux?

Basically, the flap in the bladder which prevents urine from going back into the ureter toward the kidney did not work properly, for whatever reason (e.g. not shaped correctly or not large enough). Therefore, when my son’s bladder was full of urine, it was able to travel back into his kidney (reflux). Depending on the severity of the reflux (how far back into the ureter and/or kidney the urine rises) and the swollenness or kinkiness of the ureter, the urologist determines the level of reflux; “I” being the lowest level and “V” the highest and most dangerous.

Dangerous, why? If a person develops a UTI (urinary tract infection) the bacterial infection may be able to infect the person’s kidney and possibly damage the kidney/s. When you have only one kidney, this is a life-threatening possibility.

So, with every fever my son encountered, I needed to take him to the pediatrician to first rule out an ear or respiratory infection. If there was no sign of either, I needed to go directly to the Emergency Room for them to catheterize my son and retrieve a sterile urine sample. EVERY TIME HE HAD A FEVER!!! Yes.

Prior to his ureter re-implantation surgery, my son visited the ER about four times. One time he did end up having a UTI. He was placed on antibiotics and the infection cleared. But because of this, the urologist needed to check for kidney damage or scarring. This meant he needed to have yet another specialized isotope x-ray--- this one involved him being strapped to a table while a camera (that looked like a gigantic hair crimper) took four 8-minute long photos of his radioactive, glowing kidney.

When my son turned one, he needed to have a renal cystogram which determined that his reflux was actually a level V, and not II or III, like originally speculated from his original VCUG. Thus, surgery became direr, as not to risk damage or loss of his kidney with another UTI. So, at 14 months, the urologist cut his solitary left ureter from his bladder and pulled it straight across to the right hand side and sowed it back on. In doing so, the kinks straightened and the flap corrected, with the hope that urine would no longer back into his kidney. It was a three hour surgery that seemed like an eternity for this mom.

I have never felt so helpless in my life. Pregnant with my next child, I stayed by my son’s bed as he recovered, blood-filled bag after blood-filled bag draining from his small body. I slept next to him and held him tight as he fought through waves of pain. Little did I know, less than three weeks after the surgery, we would end up in the hospital again with a kidney infection. His little body fighting off a 105.6 fever. And yet again, another hospitalization two weeks later, to remove the draining stent from his kidney.

Honestly, I can’t write any more about this. I have blocked many of the emotions that came with these events. I am not ready to relive them.

Six months after the stent removal, my son underwent another VCUG which revealed that the ureter re-implantation operation was a success. Kidney reflux is no more for my son.

Life is what we live now.

You can also find Brenda at JerseyMomsBlog.

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Comment by Brenda Milouchev on January 2, 2011 at 11:03pm
Kristine-  I hope all turns out well for your daughter!  I will keep he in my thougths and prayers.  That is so scarey about the spinal tap.  I know that I feared that for the for the first couple of months after his birth.  He didn't get his first UTI until he was 6 months.  Peace to you.
Comment by Kristine V on December 6, 2010 at 2:00pm
Keeping you both in my prayers! My 7 month old son has level V reflux in one kidney and level III in the other. We haven't had to endure nearly as much as you, but we do experience that massive anxiety with every fever and had to do an ER run (complete with spinal tap, even though they knew the infection was from a UTI) at 4 weeks. Best Wishes..
Comment by Brenda Milouchev on November 19, 2010 at 7:40am
Thank you so much for sharing your story Megan. I wish your daughter all the best and I will definitely keep her in my prayers. I hope her good kidney will remain healthy and the surgery will be very successful. Yes, trying to live each day normally is key, although, I know at times it can be hard. Good luck!
Comment by megan pizano on November 17, 2010 at 10:11pm
very similar to my daughter. diagnosed in utero. born with cystic kidneys. also born polydatyl but unrelated. her right kidney as of now at 19months has been steadily going through atrophy and her left is going through reflux. like you i am at full alert for every cough cold..fever ...i stopped working in jan. to be with her and my eldest and at the time carrying my 3rd. we will be going in and discussing her open surgery on friday. becuase the surgery is happening to her good kidney the things that race through my mind are just intense. but she handles anesthia well and is wuick to recover from surgery. i guess my concerns lie in not the surgery fixing the reflux but the possible damage it can cause to her only good kidney. this isnt just based on the surgery this is an on going thing. eventually even after the reflux her left(good) kidney is cystic and possible transplant is high. her constipation and eating and weight loss have increased. but her personality is just like every little almost 2 year old girl. i guess i wanted to say. im right their with you.each day is a blessing. each day i enjoy.but i also plan her future and treat her as normal as possible


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