Kelly McQuillan, step-mother to Jeremy Hovington, shares the journey her family faced when they learned Jeremy would require a life-saving kidney transplant in 2018.
In the fall of 2016, Jeremy Hovington was a healthy, typical 15-year-old who loved basketball, video games, and spending time with his friends. Like most teenagers, he inhaled junk food and regularly stayed up to the wee hours of the night, because that’s what you do when you’re a teenager. Little did his dad, Tomy, and I, his stepmom, know that his carefree innocence was on borrowed time.
Over the course of the next few months, Jeremy was often sniffly and exhausted and developed sinus and ear infections, aching joints and a cough that wouldn’t go away. His appetite also dwindled. While we attributed some of the symptoms to poor nutrition and frequent allnighters, visits to the medical clinics were ineffective. Antibiotics were prescribed but the symptoms never fully cleared.
In the meantime, we were preparing to move to Vancouver Island that summer with Jeremy’s younger brother Rowan. It was a crazy time.
One spring morning, Tomy found Jeremy with dried blood on his lips from bleeding gums. He was hardly able to move and all of his joints were visibly swollen. Luckily, there was a pediatric specialist working in the ER that day who immediately started the process of transferring Jeremy to Rheumatology at Vancouver Children’s Hospital.
Within a couple of days, Jeremy’s diagnosis was confirmed: Vasculitis GPA (Granulomatosis with
polyangiitis), a rare autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the vascular system and tissues. It can progress rapidly and cause multiple organ failure. In Jeremy’s case, it caused kidney failure and his kidneys were severely damaged.
In addition to hemodialysis, Jeremy began other treatments. Seeing him hooked up to this equipment, life-saving as it was, was like watching a procedure in Frankenstein’s laboratory—terrifying. Jeremy was incredibly stoic throughout all of the invasive and scary procedures he had to go through.
The doctors hoped that hemodialysis would allow Jeremy’s kidneys to rest and eventually, recover some function, but as time went on it became clear this was not the case. Talk began of getting him onto the kidney transplant list. Finally, in June, Jeremy was discharged from the hospital but still
had to go to Vancouver four days a week for dialysis. Somehow, we made it to the moving day. Because of Jeremy’s medical needs, he and Tomy spent less than 48 hours in our new house on Vancouver Island before they had to return to Vancouver for three weeks.
Once they finally made it home, Jeremy started his new life on the Island. Even though the initial crisis was over, to say the following year was rough is an understatement. Just because a teenager has a chronic health condition, it doesn’t make them any less of a teenager, with the same overpowering instinct for rebellion and independence. The doctors wanted Jeremy to be as responsible as possible with managing his health; therefore, we had scares: a couple of “medication vacations” and some fictional blood pressure readings, which led to incorrect dosing.
The stress and worry of having a sick child is something that parents often bottle up because they have to push on and be strong for their families. Frequent trips to Vancouver for Jeremy’s checkups made it hard for Tomy to find steady work here, and I was juggling caring for our toddler with establishing my piano teaching business, so finances were also becoming a concern.
When Jeremy’s disease was in remission for one year, he was placed on the kidney transplant list. We had many generous family members and friends offer to get tested to see if they were a match, but Jeremy did not feel comfortable accepting a kidney from a live donor. Surprisingly, he wasn’t on the list for long when we got “the call” to come to Vancouver.
Jeremy received his kidney in July 2018. We are forever grateful to his donor and their family for this amazing gift that gave Jeremy his life back. Also, to the incredible team at Vancouver Children’s Hospital who have given Jeremy excellent care and continue to support and monitor him until he is transferred to the adult system.
After the transplant, there were many trips back and forth to Vancouver for the first several months. The David Foster Foundation generously helped us cover a lot of costs during this time. Knowing that we could pay our bills went a long way to easing our minds so that we could be fully present for Jeremy as he recovered.
We are immensely grateful to the David Foster Foundation and all of the wonderful charities that have helped us out along this journey. Jeremy is now over one-year post-transplant and enjoying life a lot more. He’s in grade 12 and thinking ahead to what he’d like to do after school: maybe psychology, maybe voice-over acting. He now has a world of choices, thanks to modern medicine and a lot of truly amazing people.