Our patients’ stories: treating Matt’s vesicoureteral reflux


Preschoolers are drawn to play. Summertime sprinkler fun, snow-bound sledding and endless forms of indoor, outdoor horseplay are part of a youngster’s childhood fabric.

But for Matthew Dolan, carefree play was absent from much of his early years.

As a toddler and young boy, Matthew didn’t feel well and was much smaller than his active peers. He often experienced great pain—to the point of tears—when lying down, had numerous urinary tract infections (UTIs), ear infections and bouts of strep throat.

“I was sick all the time and stayed home from school frequently,” says Matthew, now 19. “I was tiny and not as active as other kids my age. They were larger, faster and more skilled at games we played.”

Matthew’s mother, Martha, knew her son was fighting a much larger medical issue. But Matthew’s pediatrician could not pinpoint the source of the problem.

“I felt very helpless since I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what was causing his pain,” says Martha.

At 6 years old, Matthew’s medical journey took a life-saving turn. He was referred to Boston Children’s Urology Department.

Here, physicians ordered a series of urological tests including renal ultrasounds and a voiding cystourethrogram (VCUG), a minimally invasive test that uses a special x-ray technology to visualize a child’s urinary tract and bladder.

The test results indicated that Matthew had duplex kidney (two kidneys) on his left side with severe vesicoureteral reflux (VUR)—the condition where urine flows backwards from the bladder up toward the kidneys—in the left lower kidney and a milder version of reflux in the left upper kidney. Thankfully, the right kidney was fully functional and damage-free.

RetikAlan“This explained the pain, fevers and so many sleepless nights,” Martha says.

At this point, surgery was required, and Alan Retik, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital Chief of Urology at the time was called upon for care.

He and his expert urology team successfully removed the upper and lower left kidney. Throughout the surgery, Dr. Retik kindly updated Mom and family detailing Matthew’s progress.

“I remember how grateful I was when Dr. Retik periodically sent me an update from the operating room,” recalls Martha.

Though Matthew doesn’t remember much of his days recovering, he does remember the many acts of kindness that followed.

“I remember getting get well cards from my kindergarten classmates. One card had a picture of me on the front, and the girl who made the drawing cut a whole in the middle of it,” Matthew recalls.

Soon after the surgery, Matthew experienced a growth surge. He quickly grew in height and weight eventually outgrowing many of his classmates.

“Physically, I quickly went from being the smallest in my class to the biggest,” Matthew says.

Today, he is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, weighs in at 200 pounds, is 6 feet 4 inches tall and on the UMass Lowell crew team.

“My care at Boston Children’s was fantastic, and it definitely changed my life for the better,” he says.

Matt-4More than a decade after his surgery, Boston Children’s Urology Department, ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report 2014-2015, continues to provide best-in-class care to children worldwide.

Mom is truly grateful for the care her son received.

“Being on the crew team and seeing Matthew fly over the waters with so much physical power is a true gift,” she says.