Dr. Dechu Puliyanda, director of Cedars-Sinai Pediatric Nephrology, met Noah Owens in 2014 when he just 7 years old and in need of a kidney transplant. His personality and tough negotiating skills immediately charmed her.
“When Noah was on dialysis, he was limited to a half cup of milk each day,” Dr. Puliyanda remembers. “Every chance he got, he would ask me to grant him three wishes. One of those always was to increase that half cup to three-quarters of a cup. Once he got that, he negotiated for 1 cup. It made me laugh every time.”'Putting kids in charge of their health has been the greatest thing I've learned as a doctor,' says Cedars-Sinai's Dr. Dechu Puliyanda. Click To Tweet
For Dr. Puliyanda, getting to know her young kidney transplant patient has been every bit as important as tracking his health. Connecting with him on things he cares about, like his science project or what is happening at home, is an important part of his treatment.
“Knowing about Noah helps me be a better doctor,” says Dr. Puliyanda.
A plan for a new kidney
Noah was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 4. Thanks to the hard work he and his grandma Marsha put into managing his blood sugar, it didn’t take long to get his diabetes under control. But then he faced another hurdle.
Noah’s kidneys had started leaking protein—something essential for his growing body.
His grandma decided to bring him to Cedars-Sinai. “I knew they would be proactive in treating Noah,” she says.
A biopsy revealed Noah’s kidneys were failing due to an autoimmune disease.
Read: Just Like a Regular Kid
The family listened to Dr. Puliyanda’s recommendation: Put Noah on dialysis, remove the failing kidneys, and join the Donate Life transplant list. The mission was to get Noah a new, healthy kidney.
“I was surprised at how complicated Noah’s case was,” Dr. Puliyanda recalls. “But coming up with a game plan was easy because the diabetes was under control.”
Noah was used to skipping sweet treats and counting carbs to manage his diabetes, but the kidney problems meant he also had to avoid all potassium-rich foods—like milk and ice cream, which he loves.
Determined to find the right balance between taking control of his health and enjoying some of his favorites, Noah had his grandma help him count carbs each day so he could get a “cheat treat” at the end of the week—3 teaspoons of ice cream every Friday afternoon.
“It’s impressive to see how he’s dealt with his illness and what he needed to do to help himself,” Dr. Puliyanda says.Noah had his grandma help him count carbs each day so he could get a 'cheat treat' at the end of the week—3 teaspoons of ice cream every Friday afternoon. Click To Tweet
New kidney, same Noah
After a year of dialysis, Noah received a new kidney in September 2016.
“Within 24 hours, he was walking around,” Marsha says. Soon he was running around the house, challenging his sister to games of hide-and-seek.
Noah still enjoys joking with Dr. Puliyanda, even when the subject is his kidney function. With a grin on his face, he’ll guess his numbers. And Dr. Puliyanda says he’s usually very close.
Now 10, Noah continues to be more proactive about his health than many adults. When he wakes up every morning, he promptly writes numbers on four water bottles. His goal is to finish two before noon, and two before 5 pm.
That was an assignment Dr. Puliyanda gave him to help keep his kidney healthy, but also to give him a task that reminds him he’s responsible for his health.
“Knowing about Noah helps me be a better doctor.”
“Putting kids in charge of their health has been the greatest thing I’ve learned as a doctor,” she says. “Giving kids, even as young as Noah, control of their own health is more productive than someone else trying to control it.”
Noah doesn’t know much about his kidney donor, but he has something he’d like to say to her: “Thank you so much for my kidney. I bet you’re a good person.”
Throughout Donate Life Month, we’ll be sharing stories of Cedars-Sinai transplant patients like Noah.