Stories about: William Harmon MD

A new kidney puts Hannah at the head of the class

Hannah after her kidney transplant

Ever since she was a little girl, all Hannah Nellis wanted to do was to go to school. Not a typical dream for a 10 year-old, but then again, Hannah’s anything but average.

Born with a series of complex medical conditions compromising her kidneys and other organs, Hannah spent her first nine years in and out of doctor’s offices, undergoing tests, dialysis and other treatments. It’s a grueling schedule, often leaving her too busy and tired to attend school. To keep her functioning at the same level as her peers, Hannah’s mother Jennifer home schooled in between doctor visits and treatments.

After years of managing Hannah’s condition, doctors near her hometown of Gloversville, NY, decided a kidney transplant would be the young girl’s best chance at living a full, healthy life. Given Hannah’s age and the complexity of her condition, her local medical team referred her to the Boston Children’s Hospital Renal Transplant Program.

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Our patients’ stories: Yahya’s journey

The Boston Globe recently ran a story about a young Boston Children’s Hospital patient who came to the hospital from Palestine. Coordinating his care was a combined effort of many people, crossing geological and political borders.

Yahya at Boston Children's

When Yahya Ahmad Masalma was born in a small village in Palestine, Israeli doctors diagnosed him with posterior urethral valves (PUV), a congenital and chronic condition that compromises the kidneys and urological system. In Yahya’s case, his kidneys and bladder were unable to properly function, causing serious problems, so doctors in Jerusalem began performing regular dialysis—a process that takes the blood out of the body, filters it through a machine and puts back into the body.

But a person—especially a child—can only undergo dialysis for so long before the body begins to revolt. After five years, Yahya’s blood vessels were damaged and failing and he would soon be unable to undergo any more of the life-sustaining treatment.

Without dialysis, Yahya’s condition would worsen quickly, and the only way he could survive was to get a kidney transplant.

Michael Agus, MD, director of Medicine Critical Care Program Boston Children’s Hospital had heard about Yahya’s case through his Israeli colleagues, and made William Harmon, MD, chief of Boston Children’s Division of Nephrology, aware of the situation. Although the Israeli Hospital has performed kidney transplants in small children before, Yahya had very low blood pressure and they felt that it would not be safe to do so for him. The Israeli physicians could not find a transplant program that was willing to accept Yahya.

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Transplant research: Paving the way for a perfect match

Sarah and John Paul Pastore

Sarah Pastore was born with bright blue eyes, a beautiful smile and a single, failing kidney. She fared well in her first few months, but by the time she approached her first birthday her prognosis was clear: without a kidney transplant the little girl from North Reading, Mass., was sure to die.

Her parents, Nancy and Robert, were screened to see if they could be potential donors, but neither was a good match. Because Sarah’s brother John Paul is under 18, he wasn’t eligible to donate. It looked like the next stop was the organ donor list.

But before her name could be submitted to the list, her uncle, Anthony Pastore, was tested to see if he and his niece would be compatible for transplant. As luck would have it, they were, and the 32-year-old Woburn man quickly offered one of his kidneys to save her.

With the live donor identified, Sarah was well on her way to better health. But how exactly do doctors fit an adult kidney in a toddler’s body?

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