Teen siblings to be Kid Captains this Saturday


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Molly and Alex Kirby can relate to each other better than most siblings — they both have a strong faith, share a rare genetic disease, and will be the Kid Captains in the Saturday game against Michigan State.

In 2009, 15-year-old Alex Kirby was notified by the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital that his kidneys were failing and had to receive kidney transplants through donors. One year later, 17-year-old Molly Kirby received the same diagnosis.

Kidney failing does not allow the kidneys to excrete wastes that helps maintain the balance of calcium, sodium, and potassium — all essentials for normal health and functioning.

The Kirby family had lived in Eldora, Iowa, for less than a year when Charles Tilanver, Amy Kirby’s fiancé, took Alex for a physical examination for Alex’s Boy Scout camp. He received the diagnosis shortly after the visit.

“I was scared,” Tilanver said. “I couldn’t believe that we had to go through something like that. I was shocked because I didn’t know he was sick, he was always mellow.”

Alex started dialysis in early July 2009, and he received the treatment until the family received a call one Saturday afternoon in November and learned that Alex was able to receive a donated kidney.

“It was a long healing process, but he came out well and came home for Christmas,” Amy Kirby said. “But at that time, we still didn’t know what caused it.”

Subsequently, Patrick Brophy, the director of pediatric nephrology at the UI Hospitals & Clinics, found out Alex was having nephronophthisis 1, which is a relatively rare genetic disease that can cause renal failure around the teenage years.

Finally knowing the originator of the kidney failing, however, the family’s concern did not simply end there.

The following year, the Kirbys found out that Molly was diagnosed with the same kidney failing problem as her brother did.

“Molly was a lot easier, because we had a pretty good idea [on what to expect],” said Brophy. “We put her on the transplant list in October [2011].”

Alex said that unlike him, who dealt with the situation in a relatively calmer attitude, Molly reacted in a different response.

“She was more worried and kind of dealt it differently than I did,” Alex said. “I told her that it would be fine, and I got through it, so she would too.”

In April 2012, Molly was able to receive her kidney transplant.

“We had a few ups and downs with medication issues, but they’re doing well now,” Amy Kirby said. “Their kidneys are working well, both working hard.”

Today, Molly looks toward a future with a college education.

“Right now, I am looking forward to college, but I have to find a doctor where I go,” she said. “I need a specialist that I can really talk to; I can’t just walk [into a hospital] and explain it all there.”

High-school sophomore Alex expressed his excitement about the Kid Captain event he will participate in.

“I’m excited. I don’t watch much college football, but I’m a Hawkeye fan,” he said.

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