By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scarlet Boetjer celebrated a big anniversary a week ago.
She’s only 6, so it wasn’t a wedding anniversary or a work milestone.
Scarlet marked her one-year kidneyversary May 14. And she did it by handing out kidney-shaped cookies to her kindergarten classmates.
She added an educational component to her party too. Mom Markie Hofmann said Scarlet gave a lesson on kidney transplant to her class, so they could better understand how important organ donation is.
Born with complex medical problems, including just one working kidney, Scarlet has been followed by Riley Children’s Health since she was a baby.
After multiple surgeries to deal with digestive issues, Scarlet used a colostomy bag for about a year, but urinary tract infections became a constant battle, and her lone kidney began to die, her mom said.
When Scarlet was about 3, doctors began to talk about transplant. Little did Scarlet’s parents know that a medical assistant/nursing student working in their pediatrician’s office in Terre Haute, Indiana, was about to give them the most precious gift ever.
Jenae Kauffman met Scarlet in the doctor’s office and began following the family’s Facebook page, Scarlet Strong. When Hofmann went public with her plea for a kidney for her daughter, she listed her daughter’s blood type and posted the registration paperwork for potential donors on the page.
A couple of months went by before Kauffman messaged Hofmann out of the blue to tell her she was a match for Scarlet and she wanted to give the little girl one of her kidneys.
Hofmann was stunned, but grateful.
“How can I say thank you? You gave my daughter life,” she said.
A mother to two little girls herself, Kauffman felt called to help this child of a relative stranger. She would like to think someone would do the same for her children if they needed it.
“I’m a healthy person, and I thought about it a lot,” she said. “It would be nice to help someone out.”
She advises anyone considering organ donation to do their research, but for her, it all went smoothly. After a three-hour laparoscopic procedure to remove one of her kidneys at IU Health University Hospital, she spent the weekend in the hospital, then recovered well at home, she said.
And she has resumed her active lifestyle, enjoying hiking and working out. Since her surgery, Kauffman has graduated from nursing school and is working as a nurse in the emergency department at a Terre Haute hospital.
“A lot of people wait a long time and might not get a kidney,” Kauffman. “It’s just awesome to see Scarlet doing so well.”
In the year since transplant at Riley, Scarlet has become a whole new kid, her mom said.
“Her energy level is a thousand times more, she eats more, and she’s just more lively.”
If there was any doubt, Scarlet proved her mom’s words by cartwheeling up and down the waiting area in the Riley Outpatient Center after a recent appointment. The urostomy bag attached to her hip didn’t even slow her down.
Scarlet participates in competitive cheer and loves tumbling and drawing, her mom said. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up.
“For the past year, she’s been saying that. It melts my heart. She wants to be a cheerleader and a doctor.”
Scarlet sees several specialists at Riley, including Dr. Corina Nailescu in nephrology, Dr. Rosalia Misseri in urology, Dr. Troy Markel for general surgery, Dr. Shamaila Waseem for gastroenterology, and Dr. Laurie Ackerman in neurosurgery.
“She’s kind of a mystery to all the doctors who see her,” Hofmann said with a laugh. “She does her own thing and doesn’t go according to any doctor’s plan.”
And that matches her personality 100%, Hofmann said.
“She’s a little firecracker. She’s the sweetest little thing, but she’s gonna be a wild one.”
Hofmann said her little girl still has medical procedures ahead, but she hasn’t let any of it slow her down. And her kindergarten classmates and teacher have been wonderful this year.
“One of my biggest fears as a parent was that she would go to school and be made fun of because she’s not a normal kid. But not once has anyone looked at her wrong. They all love her,” Hofmann said.
Community support has also been strong for the entire family, she said, which includes Scarlet’s two older brothers, her little sister and her dad, Zach.
“I’m absolutely grateful for the help we’ve received.”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com