A 9-year-old boy whose tiny body was ravaged by swine flu during the 2009 outbreak is recovering from a much-needed but once-impossible kidney transplant.
Robert "Boo" Maddox had the transplant July 30 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., nearly four years after contracting the H1N1 virus that killed an estimated 1,282 U.S. children.
The seven-hour surgery supplemented Boo's failing kidneys with a healthy kidney from his mom, Renee, who stayed by her son's hospital bedside for 501 days in the peak of the pandemic.
"We've had nowhere to turn but look up," said Boo's dad, Robert Maddox IV, crediting the family's faith in God for Boo's survival. "People say every day, 'I don't know how y'all do this.' But the beauty is we don't do it alone."
Boo's battle with swine flu has been fraught with complications. The virus, which sickened an estimated 60 million Americans, wreaked havoc on the young boy's lungs, heart, pancreas, spleen and kidneys, which could no longer filter his blood.
To simplify thrice-weekly dialysis treatments, Boo had surgery to fuse a vein and artery in his arm – a procedure known as an arteriovenous fistula. But the engorged vessel caused a dangerous blood pressure spike in Boo's lungs, making a lifesaving kidney transplant out of reach.
"He was told by many doctors that he was not a candidate for a transplant," said Dr. Mikel Prieto, the Mayo surgeon whose bold plan to reverse the fistula made the surgery possible. "I talked to his dad and said, 'I think maybe we can fix this.'"
Prieto admits it was "a risky move," calling the fistula Boo's "only lifeline for dialysis."
"It was scary in the sense of 'I hope I'm right,'" said Prieto, explaining that Boo would die without dialysis if the move backfired. "It was bold, but it needed to be done to fix this problem."
The plan worked, and the blood pressure in Boo's lungs quickly dropped to a healthy level that qualified him for a kidney transplant. More good news followed when both the boy's parents turned out to be good candidate donors.
"We were both matches, but I'd had kidney stones and was a little overweight, so they chose her," said Robert Maddox, explaining how his wife and the mother of his five children agreed without hesitation. "She never flinched, never questioned it."
The marathon surgery was successful, with Boo's frail body accepting the donated kidney. But a blood clot caused yet another scare for the Maddox family.
"He had to go back on the ventilator," said Robert Maddox, explaining how a hematoma hidden on the back of the organ landed Boo back in intensive care. "But he's doing good now, talking to us."
Boo's mom is also recovering well from the surgery.
"We've been to school," Robert Maddox said of the family's four-year journey. "We've been to school on learning how wonderful life is and how each and every day is so important."
Getting stronger every day, Boo looks forward to eating "absolutely everything" after months of being fed through a tube, according to his dad.
"He watches the Food Channel every single day," he said, noting that Boo's favorite show is the Food Network's "Dinners, Drive-ins and Dives." "He wrote down every place they've ever been and decided he's going."
The kidney transplant also means Boo could soon go to school for the first time since kindergarten, his dad said.
"He's never been to school except for about two months," he said, explaining how Boo got sick in November of his first school year. "But he's sharp as a tack, taught himself to spell and write. I taught him to count money and tell time in an hour."
Prieto is thrilled that Boo will have a normal life, but admits he'll miss seeing the brave boy who was willing to endure anything to get better.
"He's gone through so much, and he's just amazing," the surgeon said of Boo's attitude. "This kid has touched a lot of people's lives."