Days before Korbyn Thurner turned 16 months old, he received a remarkable gift from his father - the gift of life.
Thurner was diagnosed with congenital nephrotic syndrome shortly after being born six months prematurely last spring. This rare kidney disorder left him with only a ten percent chance of survival, according to his grandmother, Lisa Armstrong.
Thurner spent the first five and a half months of his life at Kosair’s Children’s Hospital in Louisville, fighting to stay alive.”They told us he would never walk, talk, smile, or have controlled muscle movement,” Armstrong said, explaining that the crippling disorder affecting her baby grandson caused him to lose necessary nutrients, which were passing through his kidneys’ filters instead of nourishing him.
Doctors told the family that if the disease was not aggressively treated, he would likely die before the age of five. Thurner’s parents, Matt Thurner and Phyllis Sandlin, agreed to do everything they could to keep their son alive and Armstrong said this meant removing both of his kidneys before he was six months old.
Baby Thurner was placed on dialysis, but was able to come home to Leitchfield with his family as they waited for him to grow big enough to receive a kidney transplant.
“He didn’t really get to have the full baby experience,” his father said of his first year of life, “because he had so many chords and tubes.”
Knowing that Thurner would have to have a kidney transplant soon, a number of relatives volunteered to be tested to see if they were a close enough match to donate an organ to the boy. “Everyone was ready to get him off of dialysis,” Matt Thurner said.
Doctors explained that finding a relative who matched not only the baby’s blood type, but also tissue type and a number of other necessary qualifiers was rare. Each family member tested was turned down until Matt Thurner went in.
“I was crossing my fingers,” he said. “We had to go to Louisville for testing every Monday for nine weeks straight. Each time a different test.”
“We’d go and we’d pass a test, and we were getting more and more excited, but still trying not to get our hopes up too much,” he explained of the weeks of testing and waiting. “We would get closer and closer as each test came back positive, and eventually they called and told me I would be a match for him.”
A kidney transplant from father to son was scheduled, and while the family was excited, Matt Thurner said he could not help being a little nervous. “I was not second-guessing it at all, but I was nervous,” he said, explaining that this would not only be the first surgery for his son, but for him as well.
As the surgery date drew near, however, Corbyn Thurner became sick and had to be placed on antibiotics for three weeks, pushing the transplant date back to August 23.
“We went to Louisville the night before the surgery and had a few more tests to run,” Matt Thurner said. “Everything came back good.”
Father and son were taken into surgery the following morning, and when it was all over, Korbyn Thurner had a healthy, working kidney for the first time in his short life.
“It couldn’t have gone any better,” the proud father said, “We couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.”
Now five weeks post-surgery, Matt Thurner said his son is is “back to himself. He can do everything, and now he’s starting to roll over. It doesn’t hurt anymore.”
Armstrong is thrilled with her grandson’s progress and said, “he’s surpassed everything so far.” She said that the family’s faith helped them to stay positive throughout the difficult times, and added “this community has been amazing. People we didn’t even know were praying for Korbyn.”
“It’s been a God thing all around,” Armstrong said, “and it still is.”