GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Parents try to give their children what they need and then some: warmth, security and, most of all, love. Cody Ireland went a big step beyond that for his daughter.

“A small sacrifice to make such a big impact in her life, ’cause I think she’s going to be such a wonderful lady when she grows up,” Ireland said as he watched his rambunctious 2-year-old daughter Hudson.

Hudson was about 5 months old when she began getting sick. Tests were administered and drugs were prescribed. Hudson would rally and relapse.

Then came the meeting with doctors with a serious prognosis: A rare condition, congenital nephrotic syndrome, was keeping Hudson’s kidneys from functioning properly, resulting in an excessive loss of protein.

“’The amount of protein that she’s losing, (her kidneys will) never work for her and keep her alive. So in effect, she needs a kidney transplant or she’s not going to make it,'” Ireland said they were told. “Your whole world comes crashing down.”

Both Ireland and his wife Kendra Ireland were a match to give Hudson one of their kidneys, so the only question was who would donate. The couple decided since he was older, they would keep Kendra Ireland’s kidney in reserve in case Hudson needed another transplant down the road.

In February, Cody Ireland held his daughter one more time before they were wheeled into separate operating rooms for the transplant.

Child transplant procedures present many challenges. Kid-sized kidneys are hard to come by and placing an adult organ in a child raises the challenges to a new level.

“But it can be done and it can be done reasonably safely and successfully,” Dr. Jens Goebel, section chief of nephrology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, said.

Goebel said that five years ago, that wasn’t the case for patients like Hudson. Dialysis was an option, but it doesn’t compare to the kind of function an actual kidney provides.

“For especially young children who need to grow and develop, dialysis is something that can be done if needed but shouldn’t be prolonged if there is a prospect to safely and successfully do a kidney transplant,” Goebel said.

Today, Goebel is using words like “curative” when it comes to the transplant, Hudson’s prognosis, and the prognosis for future pediatric kidney disease patients in West Michigan.

“We’re totally thrilled. I have a frog in my throat when I talk about Hudson and when I see her in the clinic and stuff,” Goebel said. “Thanks to Hudson and a few other young, small patients, we are as a program now are able to do these transplants for smaller recipients so these children don’t have to travel to other centers, say, out of state.”

Two months after the transplant, the little girl who was chronically sick for the first part of her young life is a ball of fire.

“Having the team that we have had here gave us a lot more hope and a lot more confidence and a lot more faith that everything was going to be fine and everything was going to turn out great,” Kendra Ireland said. “Seeing her grow and learn and finally start to click with information and knowledge; it’s just so fun to see her pick up things.”

As Hudson and her dad continue to recover, the bond between donor and daughter has grown.

“I didn’t think that was possible with them. She’s already a little daddy’s girl, 100%,” Kendra Ireland said with a laugh.

“Kendra gets kind of jealous at times about the affection that Hudson gives me,” Cody Ireland said.

Doctors will continue to keep a close eye on Hudson’s progress, but as far as the Irelands are concerned, they have their little girl back.

“It’s a 180,” Kendra Ireland said.

“We joke around that we got another kid, a different kid,” her husband said. “You go from seeing what she was to what she is now and it makes all those dark times, all those hard times, it makes them seem just so small.”

Cody Ireland with his daughter Hudson. (May 5, 2023)
Cody Ireland with his daughter Hudson. (May 5, 2023)

Cody Ireland, who said he’s getting his strength back following the transplant, is paying it forward by visiting other parents at Helen DeVos facing the same uncertainly he and his family faced just a few months ago.

“Just to give them our experience and put their mind at ease,” he said. “Just another reason I love this story being shared because I want people to know it’s going to be OK.”