Gavin’s kidney transplant: A big gift for the ‘little man’

Kidney transplant recipient Gavin Couto and his momThere is more to the gaze of 21-month-old Gavin Couto than meets the eye.

“We call him ‘the little man,’” says Lauren Messier. “It’s part of how he looks, but it’s also the way he acts. He just makes us laugh.”

Laughter didn’t come easy the first few months after he was born. Gavin had end-stage renal disease. His mother Samantha ‘Sam’ Grota was told he would need a kidney transplant, and he needed one sooner rather than later.

But the story behind Gavin’s transplant doesn’t begin with his birth; it begins with the birth of a friendship between Lauren and Sam, when the two — now 30-year-olds — first met in a Fairhaven, Massachusetts, middle school.

“As you go through life, you need to lean on someone sometimes, and we have always been there for one another,” says Lauren. “It has always been, I will help you through it. We will get through it together.

Sam and Lauren
Sam and Lauren

A friend to lean on, a donor for Gavin

When Lauren learned Gavin would need a kidney — and that Sam wasn’t a match — she made the decision to place her name on a list of potential donors.

I knew if I put my name on that list, I wasn’t going to back down. I took it very seriously. I knew it was something Gavin needed. I knew it was something so important to his future, and if I could do it — then why not?

A transplant is considered the best treatment for most people with end-stage renal disease, especially children. If possible, living-donor renal transplants are typically encouraged, since the average lifespan for a living-donor transplant is longer than a deceased-donor transplant.

“A living-donor renal transplant may last 15 to 20 years, compared to about eight to 12 years for a deceased-donor transplant,” says Courtney Loper, the Kidney Transplant Program coordinator at Boston Children’s Hospital.

For Lauren, it was an easy choice. “I knew if I put my name on that list, I wasn’t going to back down. I took it very seriously. I knew it was something Gavin needed. I knew it was something so important to his future, and if I could do it — then why not?”

Sam hoped this transplant would see Gavin through childhood and his adolescent years, maybe even into adulthood.

A selfless act

On Oct. 21, 2015, Lauren spent the night at Boston Children’s, along with Sam and Gavin. They were able to spend time together, relax and really focus on what was going to take place the following day. The morning of the surgery, Lauren didn’t have to rise as early to make the trek from her home in Fairhaven. She just walked across the street to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where adult donor surgeries take place.

“It hit me,” Sam says. “Lauren had no one with her. I felt so bad. I had been so preoccupied with Gavin it hadn’t crossed my mind. She was all alone.”

But Lauren, who had never undergone even a minor surgery, was more relaxed than she had ever been. “I had come to peace with what I was going to do,” she says. “I knew that Sam would be thinking about Gavin, and that was where her focus needed to be.”

When Lauren awakened in the recovery room, Sam was one of the first people to visit her. She was able see Lauren every day and be there for her, as they had been there for each other throughout their friendship.

Kidney transplant recipient Gavin with his sisters Skyla and Keira
Gavin with his sisters Skyla and Keira

Before the kidney transplant, Sam had insisted that Lauren move in with her, along with her two girls, Keira and Skyla — and of course Gavin. “My backyard is fenced in for her two dogs, and there would be plenty of family and friends that would be there to help, so I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if you lived with us?’” says Sam.

Adds Lauren, “Having Keira and Skyla around was great for my recovery,” says Lauren. “There were days they would come home from school and check on me, always careful to avoid touching my ‘boo-boo’ side. They were so instrumental in keeping us all sane, without even knowing they were being helpful. That in itself was a blessing.”

A special bond

Life has settled into the steady beat of routine since the transplant in October. Lauren is back to work and back to health, and Gavin, who will be 2 in June, is talking, walking and soon will be running.

“He holds a piece of me inside all the time,” says Lauren. “Before the transplant, he was always tired, but you could tell he had this little glimmer in his eyes, something was going on in that kid, he wanted to be active, but he just couldn’t do it — now he can. That is my true reward.”

Listen to Lauren talk about how Gavin is doing today.

Lauren and kidney transplant recipient Gavin
Lauren and “the little man”

Learn more about the Boston Children’s Kidney Transplant Program.