After son needed transplant at 19 months, MN parents urge others to become donors

Coyle Bauer is a study in energy. Endless energy. If there was ever a race to beat the sun to the horizon for the prize of more hours of playtime, Coyle just might win — as long as the batteries of his toy four-wheeler hold out.

"Oh, Coyle. He is high energy," said his father Josh. "If he’s not outside, he’s bored."

Coyle has been in a race against time since before he was born. During his 19-week ultrasound, the doctor found something suspicious.

"They said his kidneys looked a little enlarged," Josh recalled the doctor saying as they were instructed to head to the Mayo Clinic to get a more advanced ultrasound reading. At Mayo, Josh and his wife Kayla learned Coyle had a lower urinary tract obstruction. Essentially, there was a little flap of skin blocking the function of his kidneys which is why they enlarged in the womb.

"We found out two months after he was born that actually both of his kidneys were shot," said Kayla. "  There was worse damage than they thought, and he needed a kidney transplant."

Among the first doctors they consulted was Mikel Prieto, a world-renowned Mayo Clinic transplant surgeon.

"He was very sick," recalled Dr. Prieto of his first examination with Coyle. "His kidneys were still working a little bit, but they were about to fail, and he needed something done soon."

Kidney disease among children is rare, according to the National Institutes of Health. It typically results from either a congenital development or a genetic issue. The preferred treatment is a kidney transplant as soon as possible to normalize their growth and quality of life. 

"Otherwise the only alternative is putting them on dialysis, which has a lot of negative side effects, especially for a small child," said Dr. Prieto.

Both Josh and Kayla explored becoming donors to Coyle, but they were both quickly ruled out. By the time it was determined Coyle needed a new kidney at about 14 months old, Kayla was already expecting the couple’s second child and could not become a donor.

Coyle waited five months on the kidney transplant list when Josh’s phone rang at the Faribault firehouse where he serves as a firefighter. There was a possible kidney for Coyle.

"I mean, I broke down in front of the guys, I didn’t know what to think," recalled Josh. "I was just an amazing feeling that he’s going to get his kidney in a second chance at life."

During a lengthy surgery at Mayo, Dr. Prieto carefully connected the kidney from a deceased young adult into Coyle’s 19-month-old body.

"It’s like it’s like putting a big engine in the small car. It works fantastic," said Dr. Prieto said about Coyle’s successful transplant surgery. "I can say that fortunately all these kids do great. And they spend a few days in the hospital and they go home and, and it’s amazing to see them grow and prosper after the transplant."

Many Minnesotans are voluntarily doing their part to help ensure these success stories. As many as 55% of Minnesota residents have checked the box on their driver's license to become an organ donor. However, a survey by the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that belief in the importance of organ donation remains high, at 90.4% among those surveyed in 2019.

"There’s a gap there," said Susan Mau Larson of LifeSource, the organization tasked by the federal government to manage organ donations in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and a section of northwest Wisconsin. "And what we hear is sometimes people don’t register because they haven’t really thought about it, or they’re concerned that maybe their health conditions would exclude them from being able to donate. And what we want to make sure is that people know that anyone can register to donate."

The need is extensive. In Minnesota alone, as of April 10, more than 2,400 people were waiting for an organ transplant. The vast majority, 1,847, are waiting for a kidney. Those needing a liver number 165. Ninety-six people are waiting for a heart transplant, and 34 are waiting for a lung.

Before Coyle Bauer’s need for a kidney, his own parents were not registered organ donors, but they are now.

"My message would be just get out there and check that box," said Josh.

There are many reasons why people do not choose to become an organ donor and the advocates at LifeSource are deeply aware of those factors.

"What we hear is sometimes people don’t register because they haven’t really thought of it, or they’re concerned that maybe their health conditions would exclude them from being able to donate," explained Susan Mau Larson. "We want to make sure that people know anyone can register to donate. One donor can save and heal up to 75 lives. Donation is a tremendous, sacred, beautiful gift that gives life and hope to many, many people."

In Minnesota, in addition to committing to becoming an organ donor when getting a new driver's license, residents can also sign up when buying a hunting or fishing license. Finally, anyone in the states serviced by LifeSource can register online

Of course, Coyle’s kidney transplant was the motivation for Josh and Kayla to commit to becoming donors, but it also came down to Josh’s core values as a firefighter.

"Every day at work, I get the chance to save someone’s life," said Josh. "And now, even in death, I hope to save some lives too someday."