Caleb, a young male patient, in a reclined position making the Wakanda Forever salute alongside characters from the Black Panther movie

Grown Stronger: Caleb Takes on the World

Caleb, a young male patient, in a reclined position making the Wakanda Forever salute alongside characters from the Black Panther movie

Caleb is a college senior who loves to create and explore. He spent the last four years studying creative writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

"I have the freedom to invent my own universe and new galaxies and go anywhere in my mind," says Caleb, who is writing a memoir.

His fertile imagination has served him well throughout his life, which began with kidney failure. Caleb had his first transplant at Children's National Hospital when he was 4. His mom donated one of her kidneys to make it possible.

The transplant worked for years but failed when Caleb was 11. Daily dialysis followed for at least seven more years. He spent three long afternoons in the hospital's Heart and Kidney Unit each week — and a lot of time in the car or on public transportation. The other four days, he did dialysis at home.

"A kid on dialysis doesn't feel like a kid," Caleb says. "You have a port in your chest, which hurts when they clean it, and you’re hooked up to a machine that keeps you alive, but you're not really living."

Other unpleasant side effects? Constant beeping of machines and blinking lights at night, a high risk of infection and about a million rules. No pizza. No chips. No cookies or fried chicken. No tacos or movie nights with friends.

"It was a hard time for me," says Caleb, who often wrote superhero fantasy stories during his long afternoons at the hospital. "But I'll never forget how the nurses always laughed with me and cracked jokes. One was like my second grandmother. Another always had a comic book for me and reminded me it was important to enjoy life even when things were hard. They helped me remember I was a kid."

When Caleb was a high school senior, his nephrologist, Sun-Young Ahn, MD, told him the hospital had an organ donor match. Caleb's father had donated a kidney as part of an organ swap program.

"At first, I was like, 'Don't freak out, act normal, things usually don’t work out.'"

He had his second transplant surgery a few months later.

"Now, all I need to do with my new kidney is drink water, take my meds and get infusions every now and then. Otherwise, I’m free!"

Care Team

I can be alive. I can be myself. I have a future. The people at Children’s National Hospital taught me a lot about resilience and the ability to keep going. I feel like I can take on the world because I made it. My parents also had a lot to do with it.

— Caleb

A young patient at Children's National Hospital.

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A young patient at Children's National Hospital.