Family spending Christmas at home |

Family spending Christmas at home

Barry Ginter
Nevada Appeal Editor
Submitted Photo

This will be a normal Christmas for Hana Vasquez-Stading. Well, as normal as it can be for someone whose birthday is on Christmas Eve. And as normal as it can be for a 13-year-old a year removed from a kidney transplant.

You wouldn’t guess Hana’s medical history by looking at her. She stands out more for her radiant smile, plays on a soccer team and just made the cut for the Eagle Valley Middle School volleyball team.

“Most people see her and don’t realize she’s had a transplant,” said her mother, Robin, an ultrasound technician at Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center.

But normal will never be quite the same for Hana. Not since the strep throat she contracted in 2004. Doctors initially thought it was a virus, and it was a week before she was treated. They had no way of knowing the damage it had done to her kidneys.

But she got better, or so it seemed. In May 2006, at a soccer tournament, Hana came down with flu-like symptoms that didn’t improve even days later. By the end of that week, Robin was insisting on blood tests, but answers still were elusive. It quickly became clear how serious her condition was when she went into seizure and she was soon in a helicopter on the way to a California hospital.

Finally, they had their answer – Hana’s kidneys were failing. It took dialysis to keep her alive for the rest of the year. Equally as difficult for a child, she had to go on a diet of bland foods … no tomatoes, no pizza, no french fries, no salt, not even any chocolate.

Meanwhile, Hana’s parents, Milko and Robin, were hoping tests would confirm they were matches to be kidney donors. If not, Hana might be on a waiting list for as much as three years.

In July, they learned they were both matches. Milko, 43, who teaches at Douglas High School, insisted that it be his kidney that be transplanted into Hana, even though he has a genetic disposition for diabetes and losing a kidney would increase his risk. Milko had to lose 30 pounds before he could be considered a donor, and began a marathon-like training regimen to accomplish that.

But there is no hesitation in his voice when he explains why he insisted on being the donor.

“There’s an old saying, ‘there’s a lot of daddys, but there’s only one mama,'” he said.

Hana’s kidneys were removed in October 2006 so doctors could regulate her blood pressure, and the transplant was Dec. 4 at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. On that day, Milko’s surgery lasted nearly six hours. He remembers waking up the next day at 7 a.m., struggling out of bed and making his way down to the ICU wing where his daughter was recovering. He had to see how she was doing.

He made it there, too, before stunned nurses got him back to his room, even threatening to put him in restraints.

The news was good on Hana, but the procedure was not without problems. The transplant proved more difficult than they’d expected because Milko’s kidney was larger than they’d anticipated. A month after the surgery, Hana tested positive for a virus that can attack the kidney. Hana and her doctors were able to overcome all of those setbacks.

It’s been a long road for Hana and her family, one that will continue for the rest of her life as she continues to visit doctors regularly and take about a dozen pills each day that, among other things, keep her body from rejecting the kidney.

She must drink more than a gallon of water each day, which she has found to be no easy task.

“I’m the water patrol,” her mother said.

Because her immune system is low and she’s at risk of infection, doctors orders are that she has to avoid people who are sick and places where germs are prevalent, including school buses.

Milko has challenges, too. As a pre-diabetic with other ailments including gout and high blood pressure, his doctors want him to lose another 60 pounds and restrict his diet to avoid all starches.

The family knows the transplant wasn’t a cure for her kidney failure, but doctors hope it lasts more than 20 years. After that, another transplant may be necessary.

Hana enjoys plenty of support and attention from her family, including brothers Nikolai, 16, and twins Jared and Caleb, 14. In fact, she’s quite spoiled, they’re quick to point out.

The family spent last Christmas in a small room at the Ronald McDonald House in Palo Alto, Calif. This Christmas, they’re thankful not only for a normal holiday at home, but for all of the people who helped them through both the emotional and financial struggles.

They include the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which in November sent the family on a cruise to the Carribean, and Tux Town, which donated formal clothes for the trip. She was even able to take her best friend, Sophie Holmes.

The staff and students at Fremont Elementary took up a penny drive (raising $1,400) and brought meals to the family. The staff at Douglas High School helped with meals, too. Silver Hills Community Church and Dayton Calvary Church contributed as well.

Even though they don’t normally take pediatric patients, Dr. Michael Murphy and Dialysis Center Incorporated agreed to take Hana as a patient, saving the family from making regular trips to California during the ordeal.

Many individuals helped, too, including teacher Kathy Rothchild, who “adopted” the family last Christmas, family friends Pat Zumpft and Craig and Maryann Holmes and, at Eagle Valley Middle School, Ashli Anderson, who makes sure Hana doesn’t slack off on drinking all that water.

And there’s one last thing Hana is grateful for – now she can eat any food she desires. Anything but grapefruit, that is, but that’s a small sacrifice. She much prefers Christmas cookies anyway.

• Contact Editor Barry Ginter at or 881-1221.