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Idaho teen to get pioneering second transplant. ‘In the face of despair, we’re going to have hope’

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Krista Kingston (far left) with Traejen and Kai Johnson (fifth and sixth from left), who placed fourth in boys doubles at the 2019 4A state tennis tournament. Traejen’s younger brother, Brevin, is second from left. | Courtesy Dane Kingston

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — At the age of 2, Traejen Kingston was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease. At 4, he began playing tennis. At 9, his body rejected the kidney his mother had donated to him — after only 10 days. At 10, he began dialysis, enduring years of hours-long treatments several nights a week after school, powering past the pain and fatigue just to make it through each day.

Now, after becoming a captain of Ridgevue High School’s tennis team as a sophomore and placing fourth in the state doubles championship his junior year, the 19-year-old from Caldwell is preparing for a pioneering second kidney transplant from his father.

“The goal is to give Traejen a shot at a more normal life,” said Krista, his mother and the coach of his former high school tennis team. “A lot of eyes are on this because it’s pretty groundbreaking.”

Traejen’s disease, called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), caused scarring to his kidneys. After his first transplant, the disease attacked the new kidney, rendering it unable to filter his blood.

This time, doctors have treated Traejen with doses of chemotherapy and stem cells from his father in an attempt to create a more welcoming environment for the new organ. Though this procedure has been tried on a handful of patients in the U.S., doctors have told his parents he will be the first person to receive it after a failed transplant.

The aim is to “replace the immune system where the disease is carried, (which will) give them a chance at keeping the disease at bay,” Krista said.

Ridgevue High tennis coach Krista Kingston and her players wear green shirts to bring awareness to National Kidney Month and to consider what donating a life-giving organ can mean to people. Kingston donated one of her kidneys to her son Traejen, who also played on the tennis team. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

Since late January, Traejen and his father, Dane, have been living in Stanford, California, where the two have been in and out of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. After chemotherapy, Traejen received stem cells from his father Feb. 10, which his family hopes will build a healthy immune system. If he regains sufficient strength over the next few months, he will receive one of his father’s kidneys this summer.

“If this works, it gives hope to a lot of other people,” Dane said.

But recovering from the chemotherapy has been tough, and Traejen just started eating again Monday.

“It’s pretty much wiped him out,” Dane said. “He went from somebody who could play tennis in the sun for two hours to barely being able to walk up two flights of stairs.”

NO KIDNEYS, NO PROBLEM

On Thursday afternoon, Traejen’s former teammates cheered on those who suffer from kidney disease when the Warhawks faced Emmett High in a home match. Krista invited community members who have received or donated kidneys to come to the event.

The event was designed to raise awareness about kidney disease.

“We hope to honor these people that deal with hard things,” Krista said. “People that are on dialysis are really a forgotten group, and people just don’t understand how difficult it is.”

Since his failed transplant, Traejen has undergone treatments most nights. Though dialysis allows patients to live without functioning kidneys, the treatments are exhausting.

Ridgevue tennis coach Krista Kingston holds a pendant with a T for Traejen, her son who fought kidney disease throughout his childhood. Traejen is undergoing stem cell treatment that will facilitate a second kidney transplant from his father. Krista donated a kidney on the first attempt, but the disease forced a rejection. | Darin Oswald, Idaho Statesman

March is Kidney Disease Awareness month, and the Warhawks varsity team wore green T-shirts designed by one of Traejen’s brothers, Brevin, to school on Thursday. The shirts have “Team Traejen” written on the back. The students made posters and packed snack bags with kidney jokes on them.

“Why do kidney donors always donate their right kidney?” read one. “Because then they have one kidney left.”

Krista ordered wristbands for the team that read “No Kidneys No Problem.”

“That’s just who he is,” she said. “He tries to make light of his situation.”

Traejen’s senior yearbook quote was, “You can graduate without kidneys.”

Though Traejen’s 2020 senior season was canceled due to COVID-19, he hopes to play in college, and his high school teammates still conduct themselves with the temperament he helped instill in them.

“Any time I ever got down on myself, he always knew how to bring me back up to finish the match and pull out a win,” said Kai Johnson, a senior who was Traejen’s doubles partner at Ridgevue. “He’s taught me a lot about just never giving up in life.”

On Monday, Traejen and his family will mark the 10-year anniversary of his first transplant, which they call his “Transplantiversary.” Krista and Brevin will fly to California on Saturday for spring break, while his older siblings, Xavier and Quincee, will tune in remotely.

“Even though it didn’t turn out the way we wanted, we celebrate pushing through,” Krista said. “In the face of despair, we’re going to have hope.”

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