It's often said that parents will do anything for their children, and that the bond among family members is one of the strongest that can exist. For the Holdaway family of Chandler, Arizona, those adages came into sharp focus when Kendon Holdaway needed a kidney transplant, and his entire family stepped up to take a role in his care.
Kendon's symptoms started in 2012 when he was 14. They were subtle at first. He was sleeping a lot and generally not feeling well. His parents, Lisa and Michael Holdaway, thought Kendon had mononucleosis, so they took him see a pediatrician. Following several tests, the doctor discovered that Kendon's kidney function wasn't normal. A kidney biopsy and other testing revealed that Kendon didn't have mono. He had chronic kidney disease. Although he was in the early stages of the disease, his kidney function would gradually deteriorate over time. Eventually Kendon would require a kidney transplant.
"The nephrologist said that it was a matter of when — not if — I would need a transplant," Kendon recalls. "To a 14-year-old boy's mind, it seemed something that was far away but so real at the same time."
The prognosis cast a shadow over the years that followed. "Every holiday, every big family event, it was always there in the background," Lisa says. "It was always a worry, and over seven years, we steadily watched Kendon's health decline."
Still, Kendon and his family did their best to live a normal life. He played soccer in high school for several years. And after graduation in 2016, Kendon went on a two-year mission to Arcadia, California, with his church, where he learned to speak fluent Mandarin.
But about a month after returning home in June 2018, Kendon's health took a sudden turn for the worse. "It came to a point where I couldn't focus on anything," Kendon says. "When you're nauseated all day, and you're sleeping 13 hours a night — and you wake up and have a few bites, and that's all you can eat — you really can't see past that."
At one point, he had to be rushed to an emergency department due to vomiting. Following lab work, physicians confirmed that the time had come for Kendon to have his transplant.
Before Kendon's kidney function deteriorated to the point that he would need dialysis, the Holdaways decided to contact Mayo Clinic in Arizona. They wanted to start the testing process in hopes of identifying a living kidney donor for Kendon, so he could avoid being put on the transplant waiting list.
Lisa says that her mother's intuition told her she was meant to be Kendon's donor. "I felt this responsibility that it had to work out," Lisa says. "We didn't have a plan B." That intuition was spot on, and Lisa was approved to be the donor.
"We were very calm, and we knew we were in the right place, and that things would turn out OK."Michael Holdaway
On the day of the transplant, Sept. 12, 2018, the family packed up early in the morning to make the hour drive from their Chandler home to Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. When they arrived, the Holdaways were told that Kendon's transplant came just in time. A few more hours, and he would have required dialysis.
After their 5 a.m. arrival at the hospital, the family camped out and waited, trying to keep their nervousness at bay. When the time came for the surgeries to start, Lisa was wheeled to the operating room first, where surgery to remove her kidney took two hours. Kendon's surgery came later, and he bravely signaled a thumbs-up as they rolled him to his surgery suite. Despite being anxious, the remaining three members of the Holdaway family were confident in the day's eventual outcome.
"We were very calm, and we knew we were in the right place, and that things would turn out OK," Michael says. Later, the family was able to relax upon hearing that both surgeries had gone well.
Kendon's and Lisa's recoveries quickly became a dedicated family affair. Michael and daughters Elyse and Ashley all stepped up to fulfill caregiver duties.
Elyse, then a junior in high school, also followed the entire journey with her father's camera. "We knew that we wanted to document this because it's a huge milestone in all of our lives," Elyse says. "You want to be able to go back and relive that, so we wanted to make sure that we had the camera out and that we got everything. We got all the emotions involved with it."
Her video, put to music, chronicles the early morning journey to the hospital and follows Kendon and Lisa down the winding hospital hallways as they were wheeled into their respective surgeries. It also captures the family's anticipation before the procedure and the emotional reunion of Lisa and Kendon following their surgeries, where they reunited in the postoperative area.
"Without everyone in my family, I wouldn't have been able to focus on getting better and doing those things we needed to do to make sure the transplant happened."Kendon Holdaway
Once Kendon and Lisa were back at home, the Holdaway caregivers were tasked with making sure each medication was distributed at the correct time, to the right person, and that the house was always in sterile condition. Although caregiving could be a challenging job, Michael does not regret the time spent doing it, reminiscing about the 5 a.m. drives he and Kendon took together to Mayo Clinic Hospital every morning for Kendon's follow-up appointments.
For Kendon, the family's support was invaluable. "Without everyone in my family, I wouldn't have been able to focus on getting better and doing those things we needed to do to make sure the transplant happened," Kendon says. Ashley confirms that their family has always been close, and the way they all came together around the transplant reinforced that. "I couldn't be a match for my brother, so I was glad to be there in a small way," she says.
With his health restored, Kendon's now looking to the future. This year, he will start college in Utah. His plans after graduation are to enter medical school in hopes of one day being a kidney doctor. "The human body is such an amazing thing," Kendon says. "It has always interested me, but it was after the transplant that I could see the amazing things that doctors can do, and the amazing miracle that transplant is. That really gave me a passion for it."
"Everyone was needed. Everyone played a part in it. It was a neat thing where it bonded us as a family."Lisa Holdaway
Although their transplant journey is over, it has had a lasting impact on the Holdaway family. "How many chances do you get to spend basically six weeks uninterrupted with your kids — especially grown kids who typically would be away from home or off to school?" Michael asks. "It was really a bonding time. Despite the fact that Kendon and Lisa were recovering, it was actually a great time as a family to spend time together."
One small but significant way the family decided to illustrate their togetherness during the transplant process was through matching T-shirts that they created and wore to the Mayo Clinic Kidney Transplant Reunion in May. The shirts also made an appearance on the family's Christmas card.
As Lisa reflects on the overall experience, she emphasizes the value of each family member's contribution. "Yes, Kendon received the kidney, and I was able to give him my kidney, but it was a family affair," Lisa says. "Everyone was needed. Everyone played a part in it. It was a neat thing where it bonded us as a family. We're transplant strong."